The Paper-Free Kitchen

paperfree

This week, at the prompting of my husband, we made the switch back to a paper-free kitchen.  Yes, back- we had done this several years ago but had regressed back when we lived with my parents for a bit and sharing laundry between 14 people, well…paper was just easier.  But we kept our cloths, and I am thankful!

The basic premise of the paper-free kitchen is just like it sounds- no paper. We don’t keep any disposable dishes or utensils in the house at all, and we have just one roll of paper towels under the sink for emergencies (like a pet accident or something grotesque involving raw meat juices….bleh). Disposable dishes are a big step for many families- but it is a big step for the environment, too. While it definitely takes more time to wash dishes, and you may use more water, you aren’t wasting money on things you’re throwing into landfills, either! Plus, washing dishes is a great community-building activity. One person washes, one person dries, one person puts away, the others stand around and keep them company…it’s like magic. Maybe not, but remember the environment!

Steering your kitchen away from paper towels and napkins is definitely a more daunting task- though I’ve found being prepared for anything makes it a lot easier! We have a variety of different cloths for different purposes:

Hand towels: These are your standard kitchen linen, I’m sure you have some. We probably have 6-8. We dry our hands with these after washing or doing dishes. They are usually decorative and seasonal. Super cute.

Cloth napkins: We do have one set of these (4), but to be honest, we don’t use them that much. We probably should more often. Maybe we’re just clean eaters? We also use placemats, which helps keep the table clean.

Microfiber: for ‘dry-cleaning’ mostly, dusting and sweeping up dirt messes, cleaning off the kitchen table, or giving the floor a once-over with the Swiffer. Also, if there is a big spill, these are much more absorbent than our cloth rags, so sometimes we use microfiber instead. I think we have around 6.

Cloth rags: For us, these are cut-up old t-shirts. We have a big basket of them, probably around 30 or so, which works well for our household of 3. They are thin and we aren’t emotionally attached to them (anymore haha). When we would normally reach for a paper towel or napkin, we instead grab a cloth rag. They work really well with the citrus-infused all purpose spray we use for the kitchen counters! If they get crumbs on them, we give them a quick rinse and then hang them on the oven handle to dry. Once they start to get a little grimy, we take them upstairs and throw them in with our laundry, and replace them with a new cloth. It’s really that easy!

Some people prefer to use all microfiber, which does works great for everything but can be a little bit of an investment. Our shirts were headed to Goodwill anyway, and they have served us well so far! I’m so happy to put them back in action.

So yes, we do keep a roll of paper towels around just in case. But our usage is SO MUCH LESS than it was before, and we are spending much less money! Next step, moving to cloth in the bathroom….maybe when we have a house with a laundry machine 😉

Do you use cloth in your kitchen?

The Antibacterial Movement: Are We Destroying Our Immune Systems?

Here’s a confession for you: I HATE washing my hands. Don’t worry, I do it after I go to the bathroom, or when I’m cooking, but I’m just generally not an avid hand-washer. I don’t carry around hand sanitizer- I do have a small bottle of all-natural sanitizer from CleanWell, but it’s lasted me about 3 years. Places that I do wash my hands often (home, kitchen, office) I only use all-natural, preferably homemade or small-batch soaps that don’t contain weird ingredients. I don’t know what it is, but generic, chemical-laden hand soap and sanitizers just are NOT my thing!

Given this little quirk, when a friend suggested writing about hand-washing and antibacterial stuff, I jumped on the subject. Maybe there’s something behind my personal vendetta against germ killers? Turns out, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be…

The first thing I came across was this FDA page about Triclosan, the active ingredient in antibacterial hand soaps and sanitizers. The page states that “the agency does not have evidence that triclosan in antibacterial soaps and body washes provides any benefit over washing with regular soap and water.” Hmm. Okay, so the FDA says there’s not really a benefit. Interesting.

Then, there’s this troubling recent article that actually details the history of triclosan as an antimicrobial ingredient. The article references “recent animal studies of triclosan [that] have led scientists to worry that it could case hormone-related problems in humans including an increase the risk of infertility and early puberty”. Additionally, the article discusses the original draft of ingredients allowed in soaps and cleaners, which “stated that triclosan was ‘not generally recognized as safe and effective,’ because regulators could not find enough scientific research demonstrating its safety and effectiveness.The FDA published several drafts of the guidelines over the years, but the agency never finalized the results. So, companies have not had to remove triclosan from their products.” This is a little worrisome to me.

While the FDA is expected to begin definitive studies on triclosan any time now, they have already missed their target start date several timers, so…I’ll read it when I see it.

Next, I found this minutes report from an the 2000 American Medical Association Annual Meeting.  At this meeting, the AMA reccommended that “the use of common antimicrobials [triclosan being named as one in the previous paragraph]for which acquired resistance has been demonstrated in bacteria as ingredients in consumer products should be discontinued”. Clearly, nobody listened to the AMA, but here it is- they express their concern that we are creating different strands of microbes that will then be resistant to antibiotics.  Essentially, that antibacterials/microbials are causing more harm in the long run than they are good.

I don’t know about you, but the FDA and the AMA are pretty big sources to be actually speaking out against making something- usually, if they lean a certain way, it’s unfortunately towards a money-making product. Needless to say, these articles got my attention.

As I continued researching, I found some more interesting articles. This one, from Mother Earth News, discusses another popular antimicrobial agent, triclocarbon or TCC, which is also a pesticide- which, thanks to it’s prevalence in hand soaps, is now contaminating our water systems and, therefore, much of large-scale agriculture. The article also discusses how triclosan “known to promote the growth of resistant bacteria, including E. coli”. Okay, no. Gross.

The kicker, for me, is this study from 2006 of mice and rats- some kept in a dirty sewer, and some kept in a sterile laboratory. The study showed that “the wild mice and rats had as much as four times higher levels of immunoglobulins, yet weren’t sick, showing an immune system tuned to fight crucial germs, but not minor irritants…what happened in the lab rats is what likely occurs in humans: their immune systems have got it so cushy they overreact to smallest of problems.” Essentially, the study concluded that the mice and rats that were continually exposed to different microbes were able to fight off sicknesses when stimulated, while the lab-kept mice and rats got much more sick when stimulated, because their immune systems weren’t used to having to do any work.

So, where do we go from here? This recent ABC news article discusses the importance of germs, and how normal, “older cleansers such as soap and hot water, alcohol, chlorine bleach and hydrogen peroxide are sufficient for most purposes…strong antibacterial cleaners are needed only when someone in a household is seriously ill or has low immunity.” Furthermore, the article discusses the importance of bacterial exposure in children, citing an Italian study that concluded that “exposure to bacteria is essential for development of an infant’s immune system. He says a baby must be exposed to germs during its first year in order to develop antibodies needed to fight infection later in life”. So, germs are not just good, they are essential for preparing our children for their future health.

My Bottom Line: We use homemade soaps and cleaners, or soaps and cleaners that we know the ingredients of, whenever possible. Yes, I bring my own soap to my office. When in a public restroom, I opt to use my all-natural hand sanitizer rather than the generic anti-microbial soap offered from the dispenser. I’ve even been known to carry around a tiny tupperware container with a sliver of soap from home. Am I going to be a germaphobe mom? Probably not, because honestly, I’m not afraid of germs- I recognize their importance to our immune systems and want my children to be strong and healthy. I know that regular exposure to common germs, in addition to a diet that supports their bodies rather than breaking them down, is pivotal for my children’s health. If someone is very ill or immunocompromised, of course there are precautions to take. I’m just not convinced that they need to include triclosan or TCC…