And I don't miss them, either.
There was a time when my kitchen was filled with disposable, single-use items, designed to make cooking and cleaning as convenient as possible. But as I learned more about the environmental repercussions of these items and strove to reduce the amount of trash I generated, I had to figure out new ways of doing things in the kitchen. At first it felt awkward, but over time it's become natural. What follows is a list of items I do not buy anymore, nor do I miss them.
1. Paper towelsUsually viewed as a household staple in the western world, paper towels serve their purpose for a few short seconds or minutes before being tossed away. Although they are biodegradable, they require a vast number of trees to make. The Paperless Project estimates that as many as 51,000 trees per day are required to replace the number of paper towels discarded every day.What I use instead: Dish cloths, rags, napkins, or tea towels, depending on the task. If I'm wiping up a mess from the floor, I grab an already-used dish cloth and then toss it in the laundry. If I need to drain something greasy, I lay it on a rack over a tray or use a stained cloth napkin that's kept for this purpose. All cloths get laundered after use, which some may say is an additional step, but keep in mind I don't have to buy, carry, or store paper towels, which is nice. See: How to avoid using paper towels for more info.
2. Ziploc bags
Ziploc bags aren't as necessary as you may think. Replace them with a combination of reusable containers, zippered cloth bags, and glass jars, and you'll be set for every food situation. I pack my kids' lunches in stainless steel containers and the occasional small mason jar. I have a few food-grade reusable silicone bags that snap closed and zippered washable sandwich bags for snacks on the go. I freeze food in reusable containers or loose on trays, later transferring them to a jar or container. See: How to freeze food without plastic
3. Plastic wrap
I haven't used plastic wrap in so long that I always feel a jolt of surprise when I see it in someone else's kitchen. It just seems so horrifyingly wasteful! Plastic wrap is easily replaced by a tea towel or plate over a food container for a short period of time. Use a double layer of aluminum foil in the freezer, or wrap with an Abeego beeswax wrap or waxed paper, using elastic bands to hold it down.
4. Paper napkins
Unless I'm hosting a very big gathering, I prefer to use washable cloth napkins at the dinner table. My family uses them for 2-3 meals before laundering. My reasons for this are the same as paper towels; I don't want to be responsible for thousands of additional trees being cut down just because it's annoying to do a bit of extra laundry.
5. Kitchen sponge
Disposable kitchen sponges are notoriously icky, not the kind of thing you want 'cleaning' your dishes. A German study last summer found 82 billion bacteria inhabiting each square inch of a kitchen sponge. I used to use them, but then I realized that a washcloth and stainless steel scrub pad can do the job just as well. Key to success is handling pots properly; avoid burning food and soak them in advance if you do.