It’s Not All Mary Poppins

My New Year’s Resolution: February Edition

No, I haven’t forgotten! I just had to deal with Groundhog Day on Groundhog Day, it being such an Important Holiday and all…

So. My eco-friendly change, which began on Sunday. Here’s a hint:

What is the common theme joining all these things?







I’ll bet you’ve figured out what they’re all for, except perhaps one.

Starting in February, I have decided to reduce (and perhaps eventually eliminate) all disposable paper products in my home. So, from top to bottom, we have:

– the basket of cleaning rags in the kitchen, replacing paper towels.
– hand-made handkerchiefs, replacing disposable tissue
menstrual sponges
– the basket of cleaning rags in the bathroom
– my in-process hand-made cloth napkins, replacing paper serviettes (or, more likely in this house) paper towels.

But what about that last one? What could it possibly be? Hint: It’s not a measuring cup. Not any more.

That, my friends, is now a tabo. A tabo is a gizmo used in the Phillippines. It eliminates the need for toilet paper. I’d heard of these things before, but had to go direct to a Confidential Source to find out the nitty-gritty of just exactly how one uses the things. However, I have it all sorted now– features of a good tabo, necessary posture, good technique — and so both tabo and basket of towel squares (for drying), reside neatly in the bathroom.

In fact, this tabo lacks the lip that my CS says is useful for getting the water where you need it. I may be hunting down a better one. I’m sure the Dollar Store is full of likely candidates.

I doubt I’ll eliminate disposable paper products from the home entirely. I’m not trying to convince my family to go the tabo route; in fact, I haven’t mentioned it to them at all, though I likely will at some point. And the menstrual sponges (which I’ve used for years) are not sufficient unto the task every day of That Week (nor are those rubber Keepers, which I’ve also tried) — but they certainly do substantially reduce the amount of disposable ‘feminine hygiene’ products I need. (I do know women who use both these products without any difficulty at all.)

As with everything, it’s a process. Our home is now using no paper towels or napkins at all. That’s a significant step forward, and it hasn’t been difficult at all.

What changes have you made? Post about them, and I’ll link to you! (And you can link to me. Linky love.)

February 3, 2009 - Posted by | health and safety, memes and quizzes | , , , , , , , ,


  1. I applaud you! I’m glad you say that reducing paper products is not as difficult in practice as it sounds in theory. Because it does sound like quite the challenge.

    As for the re-usable menstrual products, though I do have an entire set of handmade pads (I made myself) I found they just didn’t hold up to my flow.

    Maybe for next month, I’ll try improving my design and trying again.

    I remember when you made those things. Maybe you could put an outer lining of something impermeable on them?

    In truth, we’ve been working toward this for some time, so the change has been a little more gradual than this post might indicate. The handkerchiefs and napkins are quite new, though, as it the tabo.

    Comment by Zayna | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  2. Whoa. I feel more virtuous just consuming the educational content of this post. Now if I can reuse it instead of disposing…

    See how easy it is?

    Comment by katkins | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  3. You may wish to consider cloth menstrual pads for those days when the sponge/keeper isn’t doing the job. I switched over a year or so ago when I decided it wasn’t fair that my infant daughter got bamboo velour diapers while I had to use scratchy paper maxi-pads, so I got me some bamboo velour mama pads from HyenaCart sellers. A nice though weird side effect I’ve noticed is that my flow is markedly less heavy with the cloth products.

    I really don’t like external protection. I don’t like the feel of it at all, and thus haven’t used it in well over twenty years. I guess I have to balance my personal comfort against my desire to reduce waste. Hmm…

    Comment by Trish C | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  4. We eliminated paper napkins and paper towels several years ago, and I can’t believe how easy it was. Now I feel decidly weird even using a paper towel at my sister’s house.

    We have about 40 cloth napkins (and my husband has used handkerchiefs for years, too) that work wonderfully. The only thing I hate using them for is cat throw-up/pee. But it hasn’t been enough for me to buy paper towels again.

    Our son was in cloth diapers for a long time, and I really liked those. We’ll be using them again for the new baby coming in March. Visitors are always surprised when we bring out the cloth napkins, but I think they like it, too.

    Oh, and we had a “green” kids’ party, too…we brought our own plates, real silverware, cloth napkins, and sippy cups for the kids (with their names written on them so they could take them home with them and reuse). It was a bit more work, but it was worth it, and everyone really liked it.

    I used cloth diapers — the traditional flannel squares, complete with pins! — for my son, but not the girls. There were various reasons for that, but after the fact I read that there’s some evidence that disposable diapers might be implicated in dropping male fertility rates in the developed world. (It can get so hot in there, their wee little sperm-factories get fried.)

    We used the last of the paper towels cleaning up dog-barf, and I did think at the time that I wouldn’t be looking forward to doing that with cloth! Oh, well. I’ll adjust, I’m sure!

    Comment by Megan | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  5. I have learned to do as the Japanese do, and carry a pretty, absorbent, usually two-layer cotton handkerchief in my handbag. At first I felt a little pretentious and silly, and a lot old fashioned, as if I was channeling the spirit of my great-grandmother. But now I’m astonished at how often I use it – as a napkin (serviette) in restaurants (most of which do not give patrons napkins, though we do get warm wet cloths at the start of the meal, so we begin our meal with clean hands)…to dry my hands after washing them at a public restroom (again, very rarely are there paper towels, though sometimes there are air blowers)…to wipe my glasses…etc. I love the habit, and don’t plan to stop once I’m back in the US!

    Another habit I want to bring back to the US is the use of the sick mask. The masks worn throughout Asia are not to protect the wearer from germy people, but rather to protect everyone else from the sick wearer! If we’re sick, we should stay home. However, as we all know, that’s rarely possible. So — how polite they are here, to wear a mask (even small children wear them!) to protect others from our cold and flu germs! My American friends here laugh at me, and say “that looks dumb, and it’s uncomfortable. I could never wear one of those!” But I think we’re rude, if we insist on going out, to also insist we have the freedom to spray our germs!

    Oh, I’ve heard of those things before. They’re called… starts with an ‘f’, and has four or five syllables… Nope. Can’t recall. But they’re very pretty and so versatile! I carry a couple of tote bags in my purse, one made of parachute silk (folds up very small, but very strong) for local errands, but I really like the idea of the napkin. I’ll have to look into that!

    And the sick mask. Only last month, I saw an Asian man walking down the city sidewalk wearing one, and I thought he was doing it to protect himself against the cars’ exhaust. Now I know better. Thank you!

    Comment by Carolie | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  6. The one thing I wonder (and this really is a question, as I have no idea of the answer!) — if one has a rotten cold, is it better to use paper tissues, or a cloth handkerchief?

    When I have a bad cold, I could not use a cloth handkerchief more than twice before having to get a new one. Is more energy expended on the manufacture and packaging of tissues (from sustainably harvested trees, one would hope), or is more energy expended on washing (including the impact of the manufacture and use of the detergent) and possibly drying the pile of cloth handkerchiefs? I would guess the cloth handkerchiefs would win — but I would think they’d have to be organic cotton (non-organic cotton is TERRIBLE for the environment), sustainably manufactured, washed in cold water (by hand?) using an environmentally friendly detergent, and air-dried. And of course, if we all use bleach on those handkerchiefs and napkins, we’re doing the environment no favors!

    You can tie yourself in knots over this all, can’t you? There are a lot of variables to consider. All in all, though, I approach these things as simply as possible. Every small change is a step in the right direction, and we can fine-tune and improve our changes as each thing become habitual.

    I think if I have a very bad cold, I’ll probably try to stick with cloth, but I suspect I’ll end up using disposables, in part for the convenience, but also for hygiene. If I use my cloth handkerchief more than once, what will I do with it in the meantime? It can’t go, sodden, into a pocket, and I certainly don’t want to leave it lying about. When I’m at home (and I mostly am), I tuck one corner into my jeans pocket and leave it dangling so as to dry faster, but if it were really goopy and germ-laden, I wouldn’t want that brushing against my jeans, my hand, or someone else.

    I guess I cross that bridge when I come to it!

    Comment by Carolie | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  7. I really enjoy my Keeper/Diva Cup – as much as one can enjoy that sort of thing, I suppose.

    I am surprised nobody commented on your tabo. Kudos to you for that! I got very used to using some form of bowl of water in southeast Asia and India. Once you get used to it, using toilet paper seems “yucky”, not the other way around.

    In Thailand they use something similar to your kitchen sink sprayer hose in the bathroom. I have heard you can get them here but never looked into it.

    I suspect no one commented on the tabo because they’re grossed out and too nice to say anything! 🙂 My Confidential Source says the same as you: when you’re used to cleaning yourself in this way, paper seems wholly inadequate, and you feel dirty all the time. (I mean, would you feel your face was clean if you simply wiped it with a dry cloth instead of actually washing it?)

    When I was researching the tabo idea, I came across the spray attachments, which (again according to CS) are used by more affluent Philippinos. We’ll probably be renovating our bathroom in the next three years or so, and that is definitely something that I want included in the plans!

    Comment by lisa | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  8. I’d never heard of a Tabo. I applaud you and your effort, you’re a better woman than I!

    Oh, I doubt it, but thank you!

    Comment by Tammy | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  9. Sorry love, after 43 years I’m sticking with the tampons. Old dogs, new tricks, menopause surely beckons soon…

    And I have never understood, on visits to India, how women don’t have wet trousers or saris. I have to undress to use an Indian toilet and reappear dryly dressed.

    You’re not there yet? Good heavens. I read recently that the average ago for Canadian women is 51, and I am counting the months! (Which are still in the dozens, but I’m closing in on it!) My gran, poor woman, went well into her sixties, but that was because she was on the pill (why, I don’t know), and she didn’t realize it would prolongue the periods artificially. Her doctor didn’t tell her because he assumed that all women wanted it to keep going — to feel more youthful, don’t you know. Gran’s response to that bit of reasoning was an incredulous snort, and to toss the packages forthwith.

    Indian toilets require squatting, then, I presume?

    Comment by Z | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  10. Congrats on the Tabo. I was interested to hear that you’ll be keeping drying cloths next to it, because when I was in the Philippines that was my trouble with the tabo. I couldn’t figure out how to get completely dry afterwards without tp. I felt not so fresh most of my stay. I’d like to completely switch to cloth for everything, but without a washer/dryer it’s so daunting. We did cloth diapers for a while and finally gave up due to having to drag everything to a laundry mat. We do use TJ’s kitchen cloths instead of paper towels for most uses though.

    A laundromat sure does complicate things, I agree. The small, apartment-sized washer/spin-dryers that they used to have are so hard to come by any more. I remember when we bought one (second-hand) years ago: I was so thrilled not to have to lug it all to the laundromat that I didn’t mind at all having to roll it to the sink, attach it for the cycles, and roll it back after. (Spin-dryer was a misnomer: you still had to hang things to dry. I put a drying rack on our apartment balcony.) Now I have a full-sized, heavy-duty machine in my basement, but I still remember being so excited by my teeny apartment one!

    Comment by Ariel | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  11. Wow…I’m certainly not up to par. But, little steps count, right? I went out and bought weather stripping for all our doors and windows. We have a gas heater- so hopefully, the weather stripping will keep the heat in better so that we can use the heater less. Saving energy- AND money.

    So many of the green changes do save you money, I’m not sure why people fight them so! I bought weather-stripping, too — and then attached it to the wrong spot, so I couldn’t shut the door!! So then I pulled it all down and reattached it — and then ran out of staples half-way through! So now we’re sort of half-stripped. So to speak.

    Comment by Coley Moley!!! | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  12. Wow, that’s a huge step. I looked around after I read this post at how much paper we use. Ouch. And I never thought of it as something I could change to be more green. Good for you for tackling something a little tougher than turning the lights out when you leave the room 🙂

    Although, the moon cup? Just a leeetle bit scary…

    Thank you. Like any change, if you do it in small steps, it’s not such a big deal.

    The moon cup is a great device: easy to insert, unnoticeable while there, and no waste at all! If you can use a tampon, you can use one of these. (At least at home. I couldn’t see myself rinsing the thing in a public sink!) It’s just that my flow is so heavy I was having to change the darn thing too often — and still suffering leaks. (Why, yes, I do suffer from anemia without my iron supplements. Why do you ask???)

    Comment by Merrilee Faber | February 3, 2009 | Reply

  13. love it .. manual bidet!!!! I gave hankerchiefs for gifts this Christmas. I was surprised how hard they were to find.

    They are really so lovely to have and give and good, to boot!

    We have put recycling containers all over our house. It has really uped a lot of paper and containers we used to put in the trash, especially the upstairs bathroom

    You know, I was just thinking that we should have a recycling bin the the bathroom. No one but me can manage the excruciating work of hauling that very heavy empty toilet roll all the way downstairs to the recycling bin in the kitchen…

    I made my own handkerchiefs, but I’m thinking I may need to choose a softer fabric. I’ll wait till they’ve been washed a couple more times. We’ll see. What fabric are they usually made from? Do you know?

    Comment by mo-wo | February 4, 2009 | Reply

  14. I think what you’re doing is fabulous, Mary! I want to just add my own two cents about the Keeper/Diva cup (not to convince you, as you mentioned having tried it, but just in case other ladies are curious). I’ve been using one for over a year now and I could not go back to tampons. I don’t know why more women don’t know about or use these, but my girlfriends’ reactions have ranged from “That is weird,” to flat-out “I could not use that.” It is slightly more involved to insert than a tampon but is even less noticeable. It can also stay in a lot longer, with no risk of TSS, and no bleach or other weird things. There’s no paper waste, you just take it out, dump it in the toilet, wash it with hot water and soap and it is ready to use again. The Diva cup (the one I use) is made of medical-grade silicone so you can actually boil it to sterilize it when your period is over. They might not be for everyone, but I have definitely been well-pleased with mine!

    Oh, I agree with everything you said. Simple, clean, and no waste. We are just so darned squeamish here in North America about anything bodily-fluid-y. (“Oooo! I might get blood on my fingertips! Menstrual blood, even worse! Ew, ew, ew!”) It’s very silly, and I wish we’d all just get over ourselves.

    The problem I had, always, was leakage, but that’s because I have a very heavy flow the first couple of days. Really, off-the-charts, ridiculously heavy. A woman with something more like normal could certainly use them with no difficulty at all.

    Comment by Stacey | February 4, 2009 | Reply

  15. Heh…you should recycle here. There are FOURTEEN (yes, as in ten-plus-four) categories into which one must separate recyclables. Of course, that does not count sodai gomi, aka “big garbage”, for which one must purchase special tickets, then call the city to take away. Each family is given trash stickers, and must purchase special garbage bags for non-recyclable items (which must be separated into combustible and non-combustible). Your trash will not be picked up from the neighborhood drop-off point…and will, in fact, be brought to your door by the neighborhood captain, if you have not properly sorted it, if you have not properly rinsed the recyclables, or if the non-recyclable garbage does not have the proper stickers.

    If a family runs out of stickers (produces too much non-recyclable trash) before the end of the year, one must PURCHASE more stickers, and they are a different (very bright) color, so all your neighbors know that YOU are not a good citizen.

    Until I moved here, I had NO IDEA how much waste one American could produce!

    That sort of system has been discussed here (though I’m sure not so rigourous!), and was discarded, in part because of the idea that people should change because they want to. Education and all that. My contention is that people generally don’t make changes until NOT making the change is more work/more unpleasant than makiing the change.

    And as you say, experiencing this system has been very educational! I’ll bet you purchase and discard with far greater awareness than you did before moving to Japan! I’d love to see something like that instated here.

    Comment by Carolie | February 4, 2009 | Reply

  16. As for handkerchiefs, I personally think that cotton is by far the best, as it’s so absorbent. The thinner, the better, so it dries quickly. My handkerchiefs are almost all two very thin layers of cotton, joined only at the edges…although two are very, very fine terrycloth, and I adore them, even though they don’t dry quite as quickly.

    The word you are thinking of is furoshiki, I believe(pronounced fur-osh-key). Furoshiki come in all sorts of sizes, and are used as handkerchiefs, as eco-bags, as lunch-box carriers, and as gift-wrap (though the recipient is never supposed to keep the wrap!) I keep one folded in my handbag to use as a grocery bag, similar to your parachute-fabric bag.

    I actually bought medium-sized furoshiki for all the women in my family for Christmas this year, and gave them along with a book on the various ways to tie them. They’re very pretty, and there are endless, quite lovely ways to tie them to carry various items, from bottles to books to long, thin items to miscellaneous groceries. See and

    Furoshiki! That’s exactly what I was thinking about. They look so lovely and so very versatile. I love the idea — but I take it this isn’t the same as the napkin you’ve been carrying to use for this and that?

    My handerchiefs are cotton, but I may be hunting down a finer weave when next I’m in the fabric store. Thanks for the tips.

    Comment by Carolie | February 4, 2009 | Reply

  17. LOVE my diva cup. I don’t even need to think about it more than twice a day thanks to my flow. I even forget that I am in the middle of my flow with it, try doing that with tampons.

    I’ve always been baffled by the problem of drying after in Indian toilets. I like the idea of cloths for drying nearby.

    They have these things that you can install under the lid of the toilet you already have that work like a bidet. If we were owners I would have already purchased one. We used to live in a house with a bidet and I used it all the time.

    This isn’t the one I was thinking of but there are a lot of options out there.

    I’ve always loved the idea of a cup, and was disappointed when I couldn’t seem to get around the (hourly) leakage. Oh, well.

    Re: the toilet attachment. I saw a few like that. If it can be shifted from one toilet to another, there’s no reason for me to wait until we do the bathroom reno, is there? Thank you.

    Comment by carrien (she laughs at the days) | February 5, 2009 | Reply

  18. One question I had with this – are you using cloth wipes with the still-in-diapers kids? I used them at home with both my kids and found it cleaned them up with fewer wipes than with disposables.

    We haven’t cut out all paper products, but we’ve used cloth napkins for years – reserving paper napkins for the really messy stuff like BBQ chicken, ribs, corn on the cob. We go through one large package of napkins about every 3-4 years. Paper towels maybe 2 rolls a year. With both, any that are only lightly used get stashed under the sink to clean up greasy pans or cat urps.

    Kleenex is our downfall. DH has allergies and goes through boxes of it, even though he also carries a cloth hanky.

    No, I’m not, but it’s a reasonable question. I hadn’t thought to apply it to the daycare, because these changes I’m making are my own. I’m not even requiring that my family partake — though the paper towels they do by default. (They can’t use ’em if there are none in the house!) However, the parents certainly wouldn’t object to not having to provide wipes. Storage is the issue. As I’ve remarked many times, my home is small. I have an end table that doubles as diaper storage, and on the top shelf I keep the single box of baby wipes. (All parent provide wipes in bags, with which I refill the communal box.) So I’d need to find handy storage for two to four damp cloths (I’d likely rinse and re-use the same one until it was soiled each day; one per child, that is — obviously, they wouldn’t be sharing these!)… and though not an insumountable problem, it’s not as easy as it would be in a larger home. I’ll have to think of compact, creative storage solutions.

    Comment by Katherine | February 6, 2009 | Reply

  19. My handkerchief is not the same as my furoshiki…the furoshiki is larger (even the small ones!) and is more decorative, and usually a heavier weight. Often, a furoshiki is silk. I carry both. The handkerchief is for drying hands, as a napkin/serviette, etc. The furoshiki is for use as a carrying device.

    As for the bidet-rigged toilet seat, there are such things in Japan (not ours, unfortunately, though our seats *are* heated, which I ADORE!) Though they can be moved from one toilet to another, as the whole rig is part of the seat, not the toilet, they do take some serious installation (electrics and plumbing)

    Comment by Carolie | February 6, 2009 | Reply

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