Mesh trash can with balled up yellow lined paper.

Reducing Paper Waste

Reducing paper waste involves much more than recycling. First, we need to focus on the products we purchase, buying items that are made sustainably and especially buying reusable replacements whenever possible. For recycling information, review the guidelines on the paper recycling page. Here we will discuss eco-friendly alternatives for common paper products, reusable replacements, and how to responsibly dispose or recycle them at the end of their life.

Eco-friendly alternatives to common paper products

Baby wipes

Go Green: Reusable baby wipes

Many of the baby wipes on the market are actually not made from plant-based material. Instead, they are usually composed of polyester or polypropylene, both fossil-fuel based non-biodegradable plastics.

Using a reusable cloth instead of single-use disposable baby wipes is the greenest choice, as well as the most economical. Simply use a damp washcloth as a reusable wipe, such as Burt’s Bees Baby 100% Organic Cotton washcloths, which are GOTS certified. Available on Amazon.

Compostable baby wipes

Reusable wipes may not be feasible in certain situations, especially when you’re on the go. 100% plant-based, compostable baby wipes are the best choice.

  • Caboo Bamboo Baby Wipes
    • 99.3% naturally derived ingredients, plastic-free
    • Unscented
    • MADE SAFE certified
    • Available at Amazon
  • Dyper Simply Kind Baby Wipes – 99% water
    • Certified USDA BioPreferred 95% product
    • Sourced from FSC certified bamboo and
    • Certified by OEKO-TEX.
    • Hypoallergenic and unscented
  • The Honest Company Clean Conscious Wipes – 99% water
    • USDA Certified Biobased Product
    • EWG verified
    • National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance.
    • Free of plastic, fragrances, parabens, and chlorine processing
    • Available at Target / Amazon
  • Water Wipes – 99.9% water
    • Self-proclaimed “Purest wipes in the world” contains only two ingredients: water and a drop of fruit extract.
    • National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance,
    • vegan, hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, cruelty-free.
    • Packaging is made from low density polyethylene and contains 30% post consumer recycled polyethylene. Boxes are made from recycled cardboard.
    • Available at Target / Amazon
  • Eco by Naty –  98.4% water
    • Unscented
    • OK Compost TUV Austria certification
    • Available at Amazon

*Do not flush any wipe even when it claims to be ‘flushable.’ They are likely to lead to clogs pipes.

Can you compost baby wipes?

It is possible to compost wipes made from natural fiber if they were used to clean hands and face, surfaces etc.; if used to change diapers, they should be tossed in the trash.

Are baby wipes recyclable?

Baby wipes are not recyclable, with the exception of Dyper brand wipes (and diapers). They have a curbside pickup program that covers 20 cities across the country. For $20/pickup, their drivers come every other week and take soiled diapers and wipes for composting. Read about their unique process. If you don’t live in one of their pickup areas, you can purchase their return bundle to send the soiled items to them for processing.

Recycling baby wipe packaging

Recycle cardboard boxes. Most plastic packaging for baby wipes is made from #4/LDPE, which can be recycled with other plastic film.

Baking cups

Go Green: Reusable baking cups

Try BPA-free silicone reusable baking cups for zero waste baking.

Best disposable baking cups

I like If You Care Baking Cups, made with unbleached and chlorine-free FSC and USDA Biobased certified paper. Industrially compostable.

Baking cup disposal

Compost 100% paper cups unless grease-soaked. Silicone can be recycled; the issue is finding somewhere that does it. Some companies offer recycling for their products when they reach the end of their life, but I haven’t found this for baking cups.

Beauty product packaging

See the Clean Beauty page.


How to be a greener reader

  • Shop at local book stores.
  • Borrow books from the local library or a friend.
  • Buy used books from local shops or thrift stores, or online at AbeBooks or Better World Books.
  • I personally love reading from a book and turning pages, but if you don’t have a preference, get an Kindle or other e-reader or listen to an e-book.
  • Start a neighborhood little free library or borrow from and contribute to an existing one.
Where to donate books
  • Donate books to a public, school, or university library.
  • Donate to a thrift shop.
  • Various book donation drop offs bins around town, like Book Drop.
Can you recycle books?

If paperback books are in too poor condition to donate, recycle in your curbside bin. Hardback books are trickier: first remove the cover and binding and only recycle the pages.

Cleaning & disinfectant wipes

Go Green: Skip the wipes

Even in our Covid life, there’s no need for any kind of cleaning wipes at home. You can use store-bought or home-made disinfectant spray with a rag to clean pretty much anything without all the waste.

Buy a glass spray bottle like my Grove Reusable Cleaning Glass Spray Bottle and purchase a refill of your favorite cleaner, or better yet, try making this disinfectant spray recipe from Bob Vila. I like it because it’s quick and easy to mix, and uses ingredients that you probably already have. Find more eco-friendly cleaners and disinfectants here.

Best disinfectant wipes

The only appropriate time I see using disinfectant wipes is when you’re out and about or traveling.

  • Boulder Clean Disinfecting Wipes
    • Kills 99.9% of bacteria
    • Free of bleach, triclosan, paragons, phosphates and phthalates
    • California Prop 65 Compliant, EPA Safer Choice
    • Leaping Bunny certified
    • Available at Amazon

Wipe disposal

Wipes are not recyclable or compostable; throw in trash. Recycle plastic packaging with plastic film.

Coffee filters

Go Green: Reusable coffee filters

Stick with the reusable filter that comes with your coffee maker, or find one you do like. You can also purchase reusable K-cup filters and reusable Nespresso pods.

Best sustainable single-use coffee filters

These both have the approval of my coffee-loving husband.

  • If You Care
    • Sourced from FSC-certified pulp
    • Unbleached, totally chlorine-free paper
    • USDA Biobased certified product
    • TUV Austria certified OK Home Compost
    • Available at Grove / Amazon / Whole Foods
  • Melitta (which also has a bamboo option, made with 40% bamboo pulp)
    • Manufactured using FSC-certified pulp; American Forests partner
    • BPI certified compostable
    • Chlorine and bleach free
    • Packaging composed of recycled paperboard
    • Available at Amazon / Target

Can you compost coffee filters?

Both filters and the grounds are backyard compostable or can be added to your green waste bin. Properly applied coffee grounds are great for plants and garden soil.

Cotton rounds

Go Green: Reusable cotton rounds

Make the switch from single-use disposable cotton rounds to reusable.

  • Last Object LastRound includes a 100% recycled plastic case that holds 7 rounds, which are made from 30% cotton and 70% wood fiber. According to the company, these rounds replace 1750+ single-use rounds and are 24x better for the environment per a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) performed by a third-party. The texture is similar to Swedish dishcloths so depending on the intended use, they may need a little water added. Packaging is plastic-free. They are backyard compostable when they reach the end of their life. Also available at Grove.
  • There are many softer reusable cotton round options available, if that is what you prefer. Greenzla Reusable Cotton Pads are made of a bamboo and cotton blend. They are sold in a set of 20, packaged in a cardboard cylinder, and also includes an organic cotton laundry sack so you can easily wash them in the washing machine. Available on Amazon.

Best disposable cotton rounds

Reusable cotton rounds can be used for any task that you normally use rounds for. I personally don’t like to use them for nail polish removal; I feel like polish doesn’t come off well and I don’t like the idea of the chemicals on the reusable pads. In that case, you may want to have a single-use option handy.

  • I like Organyc 100% Organic Cotton Rounds
    • Certified organic
    • Free of chlorine, parabens, SLS, or ethyl alcohol
    • Made using geothermal and solar energy
    • Packaging is biodegradable
    • Plastics for Change partner
    • Available at Amazon

Can you compost cotton rounds?

100% cotton or bamboo rounds are fully compostable, although if used for something like nail polish I would throw them in the trash.

Cotton swabs

Cotton swabs are a sleeper item….it may surprise you to know that plastic swab sticks are among the top ten items that wash up on beaches.

Go Green: Skip swabs with plastic sticks

Do not buy swabs with plastic sticks. Purchase 100% cotton swabs with paperboard sticks, such as Q-Tips. You can also buy swabs with bamboo sticks, such as BOONBOO Cotton Swabs. This company is a certified B Corp, Climate Neutral, and 1% For the Planet member. Also available on Amazon.

Try out a reusable swab such as Last Object’s LastSwab. I decided to give it a try, and it is not as gross as it may seem and is surprisingly very easy to clean. The one thing I will say is I wish the texture was a little softer. Although it adequately cleans ear wax, it is not absorbent and doesn’t help dry out water in the ear canal, which for me is a big reason I like to use them after a shower. They do make a swab specifically for beauty that looks softer, so if you use swabs for makeup touchups that would also be worth a try. Also available at Grove / Zero Waste Store.

Swabs made from 100% cotton or bamboo are compostable.


Disposable diapers have a significant environmental impact, starting with the numerous resources required for production. Nearly all disposable diapers contain plastic, namely polyester, polyethylene and polypropylene. In addition, they also contain wood pulp and/or cotton.

But even worse, a 2021 study stated that, “Unfortunately, disposable diaper manufacturers are reluctant to present their exact chemical composition, claiming that their trade secrets apply. However, several reports show that disposable diapers of well-known brands, “store” brands and “bio” brands may contain a number of toxic compounds.”

Even if made with recyclable or compostable materials, the stinky contents means disposable diapers go to the landfill where they will not biodegrade. And considering a single baby will probably go through between 5,000-6,000 disposable diapers before becoming potty trained, that’s a lot of waste. In fact, the EPA reports that in 2018, an estimated 4.1 million tons of disposable diapers ended up in landfills, 1.4% of total waste for that year.

Go Green: Reusable cloth diapers

Reusable cloth diapers generally have a lower environmental impact than single-use diapers. Cotton is resource intensive, but buying organic cotton helps to lessen this factor. The biggest ongoing impact from reusable diapers comes from the water and electricity used to launder them. Despite this, I think it is a good trade off compared to their fossil fuel-based, possibly chemical laden, and non-biodegradable counterparts.

These impacts can be lessened by adopting certain practices.

Amazon has lots of reusable cloth diaper choices, as does Etsy. Here are Babycenter’s favorite cloth diapers. Ask around for a local diaper service recommedation.

Plant-based disposable diapers

For various reasons, reusable diapers may not be the most feasible option for you. Eco-friendlier disposable diapers minimize plastic use and use responsibly harvested tree pulp for their fluff.

  • Dyper diapers – Certified USDA BioPreferred 55% Product, Certified OK Biobased certified by TÜV Austria, OEKO-TEX certified. These diapers contain FSC certified bamboo and are the most expensive of the disposable diapers at around $0.56 per diaper. However, they are the only company that offers recycling of their products, as described below. I have a friend who loves these diapers and the service they provide.

The following diapers are comparably priced around $0.35 per diaper. (For reference, the very cheapest brands I found online were around $0.17 per diaper.)

  • Honest Company Clean Conscious Diapers – tree fiber harvested from FSC certified forests in North America; free of latex, fragrance, or parabens; cruelty-free. OEKO-TEX certified. Diaper boxes are made from 100% PCR post recycled consumer cardboard.
  • Eco by Naty Eco Diapers – contain 0% oil-based plastic, FSC certified wood pulp, TUV Austria OK Biobased certified, vegan, OEKO-TEX certified
Can disposable diapers be recycled?

They are not recyclable, with the exception of Dyper brand diapers. The company offers a curbside pickup program that operates in 20 cities across the country. For $20/pickup, their drivers come every other week and take soiled diapers and wipes for composting. Read about their unique process. If you don’t live in one of their pickup areas, you can purchase their return bundle to send the soiled items to them for processing.

Feminine products

The average menstruating woman disposes of approximately 10,000 feminine products, which is around 300 pounds worth, in her lifetime.

Click here to learn all about eco-friendly period products.

Gift bags

Go Green: Save & reuse gift bags

I have gift bags for pretty much every occasion—I think I’ve only purchased a couple new ones in my life. I purchased this Jokari Gift Bag Organizer to keep them together.

Buy tree-free gift bags

When you’re in need of a new gift bag, buy one made from tree-free paper. These beautiful HeavenHemp Handmade Lokta Gift Bags on Etsy are made with lokta, which comes from the bark of a shrub.

Are gift bags recyclable?

Recycle paper gift bags, removing rope handles, beads, or other decorations first. Bags coated in glitter or made from plastic have to go in the trash.


Go Green: Refuse junk mail

  • Set up paperless billing and notifications on all your different accounts.
  • Decrease junk mail with an app like Paper Karma, or sign up with DMAchoice or Catalog Choice.
  • Unsubscribe from catalogs by contacting a company’s customer service, or they may have a link on their site to do so.

Can you recycle mail?

Recycle all mail, including junk mail, cards, cardstock and postcards, catalogs, envelopes (including the ones with windows).


Go Green: Reusable napkins

I have to admit, I’ve never owned formal cloth napkins. Google eco-friendly cloth napkins and you’ll have no shortage of options to choose from. I bought these really cute casual cotton napkins from CozySimpleLiving on Etsy. If you know how to sew, you could easily make some. My mom took one of the napkins I bought to use as a pattern and made me a bunch more.

Best disposable napkins

You might need single-use napkins when cooking for a crowd or having a picnic. As with all paper products, look for items that are made with either 100% recycled materials or sustainable materials like bamboo.

Are napkins compostable?

Napkins are not recyclable. They are compostable if not soaked with oil or grease.

Office / Printer / Copy Paper

Go Green: Minimize paper use & buy recycled paper

Purchase 100% recycled paper. Note that some paper brands, i.e. Printworks on Amazon, actually package their paper in plastic, which is ridiculous. They’re PAPER companies.

Reuse paper

Get another use from unwanted papers and junk envelopes by using the backside for scratch paper.

Recycling paper

All office, schoolwork, sticky notes, lined paper, printer paper, and colored paper can go in the recycle bin.

Go Green: Minimize use of disposables

I’ve done my fair share of entertaining a crowd, so I totally get the appeal of disposable dinnerware. I’ve made it a goal to have an empty dishwasher and sink beforehand so that when the party is over, clean up is easier…we can just load it up. That’s not to say it always happens, and sometimes we’re just not up to doing a thousand dishes. But when you are able, try to use regular dinnerware, or buy inexpensive ones just for parties, picnics, etc. I’m a big fan of melamine dishes—they come in all kinds of really cute patterns and are virtually indestructible.

Best compostable paper plates

Many paper plates labeled ‘compostable’ are made of PLA sourced from sugarcane, and this is ONLY compostable in a commercial composting facility, which are rare.

  • My favorite brand of truly compostable paper plates is Bambu. These plates are USDA Biobased certified and made with FSC-certified and USDA organic bamboo. They are CMA certified compostable. The company recommends cutting them into small pieces for faster composting.
    • Also available at Grove

There are several businesses that are great if you’re buying paper products on a large scale.

  • Green Paper Products has pretty much any serving items you might need, and they are tree-free and certfied compostable by BPI, CMA, or TUV.
  • EcoProducts makes products from PLA and sugarcane. We use a variety of these compostable cups in the hospital where I work—and all because a nutrition care employee fought to get the hospital to make the switch from regular styrofoam. This is a great example of how you can make a difference in a large organization.
    • Certified B Corp
    • Depending on the product, they may hold FSC, BPI, ASTM, and USDA Biopreferred certifications
Are paper plates recyclable?

Unless you are throwing out a clean, unused paper plate, they cannot be recycled. Even then, plates made with a waxy coating are not recyclable. And after being used, paper products cannot be recycled after being coated or soaked with food material.

Are paper plates compostable?

Paper products with a waxy coating cannot be composted. If made from 100% paper they may be composted, but if made from PLA, they have to be processed in a commercial composting facility.

Go Green: Minimize or eliminate use of disposable paper towels

It’s a lot easier to go without single-use paper towels than you may think. The most eco-friendly replacement is to simply repurpose old fabrics–clothes, towels, sheets, etc.–to make into rags or paper towels-sized cloths.

I’ve tried reusable paper towels made from bamboo, but I don’t really care for them as they are only reusable for about one week and ball up if you try to wash them.

  • I have become a fan of Swedish dishcloths because of their multiple uses: they can serve as a paper towel, dishrag, and sponge. In addition, they can be laundered in the washing machine and since they are made from plant cellulose and cotton, they are compostable when they reach the end of their life. What’s not to love?

Microfiber cloths are very popular option for cleaning. I have tried to stay away from microfiber in my home because most are composed of fossil fuel-based synthetic materials which may contribute to microplastic pollution. Learn more about microplastics and other plastic pollution here.

Greenest single-use paper towels

There are some things I don’t want to clean up with a reusable paper towel, like dog barf or other unmentionables. It is handy to keep a roll or two of disposable paper towels around for cases like this. As with all paper products, look for items that are made with 100% recycled materials or sustainable materials like bamboo. Here are the paper towel brands that received A+ and A grades on NRDCs 2022 brand ratings:

Are paper towels recyclable?

Paper towels are not recyclable.

They may be composted if they’re not saturated with grease/oil or chemicals, including cleaning products.

Parchment Paper

Go Green: Silicone baking mats

Silicone baking mats are the eco-friendly substitute for parchment paper. Silpat silicone baking mats are the gold standard reusable parchment paper alternative. They have every size you might possibly need. I love my Amazon Basics Silicone Baking Mats are also great. You can use them practically forever. (According to Martha Stewart, they can be used up to 3,000 times…I’m all for eating 3,000 batches of cookies.)

Even regular parchment paper can be reused multiple times.

Is parchment paper compostable?

Yes, parchment paper is ok to add to backyard compost.

Shredded paper

Only shred documents that contain sensitive information; many areas do not accept shredded paper for recycling, whereas whole sheets of office paper can be.

Can you recycle shredded paper?

Shredded paper is 100% recyclable, but it is not accepted in many areas because it basically turns into confetti when collected, and as with any other recyclables, it can’t be bagged. The best solution is to find a paper recycler in your area where you can deposit shredded paper. If you shred a lot of documents, consider a shredding service that will come collect it for you and recycle it.

Takeout Containers

Go Green: Take your own

Consider taking your own containers for leftovers when you go out. These foldable Stasher bags would be easy to…stash…in your purse, although they are a little spendy. Here’s a great list of more collapsible options.

Some takeout containers, especially the ones made from aluminum or heavy plastic, are very sturdy and can easily be washed and reused for food storage. Deli containers are also great; in our house, they came in handy when the kids went through a slime-making craze and I didn’t want to store that gunk in our regular food storage containers. I also use them when I am hosting people for dinner and sending them home with extra food.

Are takeout containers recyclable?

It depends on the material and what your local recycler accepts. Aluminum is ok, as well as whatever plastics are accepted. They need to be free of food residue. It’s safe to say that nobody will accept Styrofoam (polystyrene) takeout containers, and most likely not wax coated paper products either (think Chinese takeout).

Tissue Paper

Is tissue paper recyclable?

Yes, tissue paper can be recycled with other paper recycling. However, make sure that it is indeed paper and not plastic simply by ripping. If it can’t be torn, it’s plastic and needs to be tossed in the trash.


Go Green: Reusable handkerchiefs or recycled facial tissues

You can choose to go old-school and bring back the handkerchief. Etsy has plenty of choices, or try these reusable tissues made by Last Object. I purchased them, and they’re great, but I’m having a hard time with the concept of cleaning snot-filled cloths.

As with all paper products, look for items that are made with 100% recycled materials or 100% natural, sustainable materials like bamboo. The brands the NRDC gives A+ or A ratings to are:

Bamboo tissue recommendations

Of the A graded tissues, I’ve used the Seventh Generation and Trader Joe’s, in addition to Everspring tissues (which I’m not sure why they aren’t listed when their paper towels and TP get ‘A’ grades). My experience is that recycled tissues are soft, but just a little weaker than regular tissues made from virgin fibers. However it’s not enough to make a significant difference.

Bamboo tissues, on the other hand, are very strong, but also noticeably rougher in texture. It isn’t enough to chafe your nose, and I got used to it quickly.

Are tissues recyclable?

Tissues are not recyclable. They can technically be composted, but your backyard pile may not get hot enough to kill germs in snotty tissues, and green waste collectors probably don’t want them. Compost if you wish, or trash.

Click here to learn how to choose eco-friendly toilet paper.

Wrapping Paper

Go Green: Skip buying wrapping paper

Instead of buying wrapping paper, reuse brown shipping paper, newspaper, paper shopping bags, or any other type of paper you have on hand. If you don’t want creases in the paper, iron them out on low heat.

Adopt Furoshiki, a Japanese tradition of wrapping objects in cloth to carry or for gifts. You can use any cloth you have, or buy some beautiful cotton cloths for this very purpose from Bento&Co.


Buy wrapping paper that is printed on one of the three following options:

Is wrapping paper recyclable?

Wrapping paper can be recycled as long as it isn’t metallic or coated with wax, plastic, or glitter. Test wrapping paper using the scrunch test: if you scrunch it into a ball and it stays that way, it is ok to be recycled. If it doesn’t stay in a ball, it’s made with plastic and cannot be recycled.

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