15 Ways to Save a Tree (or part of one anyway)


Even though we can't hear them as well as our children can, the trees are trying to tell us to stop cutting them down

Even though we can’t hear them as well as our children can, the trees are trying to tell us to stop cutting them down

1. Let your hands air dry after you wash them in a public bathroom.

2. Ask for a ceramic mug for your low fat decaf latte. Often clerks default to paper if you don’t mention you’re staying put.

3. Keep a travel mug in your bag for when you want your drink-of-choice to go.

4. Bring your own plates to school dinners.

5. Carry a handkerchief to blow your nose and your kid’s nose. (Old-fashioned is the new hip.)

6. Donate to non-profits that have low overhead and use the money to plant trees. Friends of Trees in Portland, Oregon is our favorite.

7. Volunteer for a day of tree planting in your town.

8. Plant a tree in your own yard. Try not to be furious when said tree gets mowed down. Plant another. Chase the buck out of your yard that is trying to dig up and eat the roots on the otherwise thriving tree. Keep planting trees until one of them takes root.

9. Pack a cloth napkin in your child’s lunch.

10. Don’t use brown paper bags for lunches. Use something nifty and awesome like these eco-friendly stainless steel lunch boxes. Or an old Easter basket. Or a canvas bag.

11. Don’t keep paper towels in your house. You can use an entire roll in one kitchen clean-up (I’m not naming names because she reads this blog and has nothing but the best intentions) or you can live happily paper-towel-free ever after, even if you’re a family of six or more (You can! You can! You just need a HUGE stack of cloth “wipes” so you never run out. If you don’t believe me and you want to go paper-towel-free, I’ll send you some not-so-gently-used dishrags.)

12. Don’t keep paper napkins in your house. (See #11.)

13. Use cloth diapers. One of the ingredients in disposable diapers is wood pulp. As long ago as 1981 an estimated 800 million pounds of paper was used to make diapers for one year. That number is substantially higher today. That’s too many dead trees. If this dad can do it, you can too!

14. Check books out of the library (except when you want to buy the perfect gift from your favorite Mothering magazine writer. Then you can assuage your guilt by remembering you are supporting a struggling writer, maybe? Actually, books are one of my biggest sins. I heart books. I want to support my writer friends. I have a lot of writer friends. I just ordered two books, made of dead trees, today. Both by amazing women I know: Candace Walsh’s Dear John, I Love Jane and Theo Nestor’s How to Sleep Alone in a King-Sized Bed. But, no, I swear I’m not leaving my husband for a woman. Not this week anyway.)

15. Buy recycled toilet paper (the kind that’s not shrink wrapped in plastic.) Or better yet, eschew the toilet paper completely. (That’s what No Impact Man, my daughter Athena, and Baby Leone all do. The intrepid Athena drips dry to save paper. We wash Leone’s tush with warm water.)

What are your best tips for saving trees?

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26 thoughts on “15 Ways to Save a Tree (or part of one anyway)”

  1. Great ideas! Re #1 there is a recent study that shows that air drying your hands actually makes them more germy though. Rubbing them together under the heat brings bacteria to the surface. Using a towel rubs bacteria off and creates cleaner hands. Maybe we need to go back to those cloth towel things that went around in a circle?!

  2. I guess underwear originally was developed to catch pee pee drips, right? I mean why else would we really need it? Not sure.

    I re-use my kids art work and use it to make cards for people. I refuse to patronize the commercial gift giving industry. No wrapping paper ever on our gifts.

    I am disheartened by all of the paper that comes home from school and am at a loss as to what to do with it all beyond recycle it.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..How Strangers Can Save Your Marriage =-.

  3. Great tips. So many times I need to print something off the computer, but then I re-use the paper, turning it over so it can print on the other side. I am a guilty paper towel-user, but do try to use dish towels as much as possible. Lots of times, though, it is a matter of germs; I don’t want to wipe raw food with a towel and then reuse it; I often feel safer throwing away the paper towel that I just used to clean up raw chicken juices, for instance.
    .-= sheryl´s last blog ..Oh- to be 22 Again or not

  4. I am shocked–SHOCKED–that you did not mention wrapping gifts in reusable bags, scarves, baskets, etc. After I explained it all to you in my post on Ten Perfect Gifts for Travelers Who Read!!!!

    (Good ideas, except that I have this total addiction to paper towels. I mean, I can’t drain the bacon on a dish towel.)
    .-= Vera Marie Badertscher´s last blog ..Movies That Travel Well =-.

  5. We use cloth napkins and dish towels. I remember when I moved to France and there were no paper towels in homes. Everyone had two kinds of dish towels, one for drying the dishes, and a coarser one for drying hands after drying dishes. I thought that weird back then. Now they have paper towels in France, and I use dish towels. I was really pleased to receive a box of stuff for my B&B that had crinkly brown paper to protect the glass bottles inside. I took the paper to a wreath pageant prep and one of my friends used it to decorate a fabulous wreath. I’m reading No Impact Man now and it sure does make one think differently about what we call modern life, doesn’t it?
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..What BJ Saw =-.

  6. Vera makes an excellent suggestion. This is more from frugality than eco-friendliness, but my family is notorious for re-using gift wrap. In fact, at one time you could get a stern scolding if you ripped open a gift instead of carefully pulling at the seams to preserve the paper (which would then get wrapped on a progressively smaller gift until it was eventually thrown in the recycling). Recycling gift bags is much easier.

    Aside from that, I’m a big fan of library books. Reading ebooks would conserve paper, but I’m not sure that the energy it takes to read an electronic book makes them any more eco-friendly.

  7. Funny. My dad has used cloth handkerchiefs forEVER. Still does. But he is simply old-fashioned – he’s the furthest thing from an environmentalist! I think I’m going to tell him how eco-friendly he is for using cloth. 😉

    We’re pretty much in line with you, Jennifer, but I can’t find recycled TP that’s not wrapped in plastic.
    .-= Kris Bordessa´s last blog ..Kahumoku Ohana Hawaiian Music and Lifestyle Workshop =-.

  8. Vera and Susan – the shock is understandable. A huge oversight on my part! We often reuse wrapping paper or wrap gifts on old maps or in artwork like Alisa does. Thank you for pointing out my shocking omission!

    (But you CAN drip bacon on a dishtowel and live to tell about it. It’s been done in our house. Many times.)

  9. We keep a roll of paper towels hidden WAY back behind the counter appliances for emergencies – how do my parents find it every time they visit and gravitate toward it like moths to a bug zapper? I have pointed out the HUGE drawer of real towels and rags more times than I can count.
    .-= Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last blog ..Celebrating the Cocktail with Post Prohibition =-.

  10. Great list for saving trees. I’ve always used a dish towel more than paper towels, unless there’s an especially bad mess to clean up.

    Here’s another tip: If you’re putting up a real Christmas tree, don’t cut one down from the forest. Visit a tree farm instead because another tree is sure to be replanted in your tree’s place.

    My iPad holds a very long charge so I’m not concerned that it uses some energy. I know reading a book on a reader is not as satisfying as holding that same book in your hands but it does save trees.
    .-= Donna Hull´s last blog ..Baby Boomer Adventure in Ferrari Land =-.

  11. I am clapping loudly for #3 & #4. Those can make a huge difference. I also try to carry my own forks and spoons in my bag so my daughter can eat her individually wrapped in plastic yogurt without causing the trash of a disposable spoon. It is hard to get away from plastic, do you have some similar suggestions for how to avoid plastic?

    Thanks for the great list!

  12. We’ve really been trying to cut down on plastic consumption, Myra. I’m thinking of doing a Week Without Packaging and see how it works (where no plastic of any kind comes into the house). I definitely have some suggestions. But so many others know so much more than I do. I’d start with Beth Terry’s Fake Plastic Fish, which is a blog devoted to reducing plastic consumption. Also No Impact Man has great ideas in his book, and reading about his journey to stop generating trash is very inspiring.

  13. I love these, Jennifer!

    At my sons’ school in Japan, they are required to bring handkerchiefs to school. They actually do checks in the morning which means that there have been times when my boys have come home after walking partway to school because they realize they forgot to bring their handkerchiefs with them. This habit starts in nursery school actually – kids bring their own (cloth) towel and handkerchief with them. No paper towels in sight. I have a whole stack of them here!
    .-= Christine @ Origami Mommy´s last blog ..The last first birthday =-.

  14. I’m a real tree hugger so I love your tips. And I especially love Donna Hull’s comment about not cutting down a Christmas tree in the forest. I, however, go one step further: I only ever use artificial trees. I just can’t stand letting a living tree sit in a house until it dies. On the other hand, if it’s a living potted tree that gets planted in the backyard after Christmas, that’s ok in my book.

  15. Planting trees is one of my most favorite environmental acts ever. It just feels so natural, so organic, to be digging my hands in the earth and planting a new little life. It makes me all glowy just thinking about it.

    Let’s plant a tree the next time I’m in Ashland. 🙂
    .-= Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last blog ..Vegan Truffle Recipe =-.

  16. Cloth napkins here and happy to report we just planted a tree in my front yard. It’s a ginkgo biloba. Should be lovely and showy when it grows.
    .-= sarah henry´s last blog ..Doctor

  17. I’m a little surprised at the link posted in #13 (the “If this dad can do it” one…). I read it (we’re planning on using gdiapers with the newer cloth inserts that must not have been around yet when he wrote his article) and his conclusion is that cloth diapers have just as much impact environmentally as disposables, and he actually felt like he was spending too much time doing laundry and not enough with his child, so WENT BACK to disposables….So I’m not seeing how it makes sense for it to be linked to this post!

  18. Loni. Thanks for that feedback. I am going to take that link down and link to No Impact Man. I can’t get into the article to see it right now. I think I only skimmed it and missed all these very important points that you mention here. I also had some reservations about linking to that particular magazine and your comments confirm that that was a mistake.

    Instead I’m putting in a much more sane, pro-cloth diaper link from a dad (No Impact Man) who made the switch and was a devoted convert while his daughter was in diapers.

    Thank you again!

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