We can't claim to have solved all the problems yet, but we have made some excellent progress to share with you, our gentle readers.
This issue was easy. Disposable cleaning products, such as paper towels, are rarely actually necessary so long as you have children growing out of clothes, worn out t-shirts, towels and so forth. We started keeping a bag hanging on the wall full of cut-up old clothes that we wash and reuse as needed.
Cloth napkins have proven to not only be a fine and economical way of preventing waste, they are far more useful than paper napkins and paper towels! We use them as pot holders, rags, towels and even a quick "plate" for a baked good when we are afield. Better yet, cloth napkins are less prone to blowing away in a relatively gentle wind like paper ones are. The only "issue" is that you have to wash them when you are done. Since that is the very essence of reusing anything, I don't think that's really a disadvantage.
Brooke has allergies. We used to go through so many facial tissues (and rolls of toilet paper) during the season or when there was too much dust about. Since we've both used cloth handkerchiefs before, this was easily solved in theory. In practice, there is a slight problem. In the modern US, nobody uses them anymore. If not for the Internet, we would have been stuck with either the bulky and oversized bandanas available all over the place or with the dreadfully thin and useless hankies meant to sit, perfectly folded in a man's suit or tuxedo pocket. Thankfully, you can still find quality hankies from Italian manufacturers (or for a lot more money, Irish companies) online, so a good sale on Amazon was all we needed to stock up well.
I'm sure we get the occasional silent disapproval for snotting all over a piece of cloth that goes back in a pocket, but that's just fine by us. Since we used to use toilet tissue for blowing noses, cutting out the practice has reduced toilet paper use by more than a third. Plus, some hot water, Dr. Bronner's soap, baking soda and a little Fels Naptha shaved in, and they are good as new, ready for more snots!
If we burned off paper trash, we'd have to go buy more paper trash later. This just doesn't seem sensible.
There are reasons we still use some disposables. In some cases, we haven't yet found (or implemented) a reusable alternative yet. In others, we just aren't willing to go there just now (Google the term "family cloth" as an example of what we aren't quite willing to do just yet). Overall, we find it useful to have a roll of paper towels for some purposes, but it goes very slowly (currently we have it down to 3-4 weeks to use one roll). It also helps to use the half-size sheet style of paper towels, and we tear those in half to help them go further.
What about you? Please share your comments and ideas about reducing trash and increasing independence through reusability. We'd love to get more ideas!