20 Cheap & Easy Alternatives to Disposables

Paper napkins, paper plates, plastic utensils, paper towels…the cost of all those disposable conveniences really add up! Do you really need to use all those paper goods? Here are some cheap alternatives to those disposables.

This Blue Heaven vintage plate, saucer and teacup, vintage napkin holder, cloth napkin and stainless flatware are all cheap alternatives to their disposable counterparts.

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Cheap alternatives to disposables

Cloth napkins

I must have at least 50 cloth napkins – assorted colours and prints to match various dinnerware patterns, and to switch around for the seasons. There’s also sets of white linen napkins – probably 2 dozen – that were my mom’s, to use for formal dinners.

Napkins get tossed into the wash with the rest of the laundry, and hung out on the clothesline most of the year, or on the drying rack in the winter. It’s no extra work or money to wash and dry them!

And once they become stained or tattered, they become…

Rags to replace paper towels

A package of 6 rolls paper towels lasts me over a year, and I use the kind where you can rip off a half-sheet. The only time I use paper is for draining bacon and washing windows or mirrors. I tried using newspaper, but I don’t get newspapers anymore and when I did, the ink left black marks on the white vinyl around the windows.

Old cloth napkins, face cloths, hand towels and tea towels all get recycled into rags for dusting, cleaning, gardening and washing the cars. I will do a small, separate load of laundry if I have a bunch of rags that still have some life in them. When they are beyond hope, they get cut into strips to tie up plants in the garden.

To clean up kitchen spills, sponges are a cheaper alternative to paper towels. Sponges get run through the dishwasher at least once a week, and fit into the silverware holder, or lie flat on the top rack.

Real plates, cups, mugs and glassware

It’s been over 15 years since I bought paper plates or throw-away plastic cups. Once in a while, paper plates are handy when bringing food to a party or as a palette when I am mixing fabric paint, but otherwise I use the real thing.

Everything, except the vintage Blue Heaven dinnerware pictured above and bone china, goes into the dishwasher. Most dinnerware, cups, glasses and mugs are dishwasher safe – just be sure to check the label or the underside of the plate or mug.

I found this dinnerware at the flea market, and it cost $1.00 per plate. At home, I had a solid turquoise blue covered casserole dish from the same pattern. My mom bought the pieces of the set back in the late 60s – with S&H green stamps. Some of the pieces are solid blue, and others have the blue and grey geometric pattern.

If you scour flea markets and yard sales, you can find some really cool dinnerware that are great alternatives to disposables!

No more flimsy plastic utensils

Instead of flimsy, disposable plastic, I have some heavy plastic utensils which I had gotten a long time ago. When used for bringing lunch to work, they get run through the dishwasher with the rest of the load.

For dining on the patio, the alternative is heavy duty plastic plates, bowls, tumblers and wine glasses – along with the heavy plastic utensils – all of which are dishwasher safe. So far, the set has lasted over 20 years, and shows no sign of wear. For all other meals, the real stuff comes out!

Cloth shopping bags

Cloth is the perfect replacement for plastic and paper bags from the store. Stores here in Connecticut now charge 10 cents per bag, so I keep a dozen cloth grocery bags (that I made myself from upcycled fabric) in the trunk of the car.

I was given yards and yards of tulle (netting), and used some to make reusable produce bags.

Other reusables that are cheap alternatives to disposables include:

  • refillable pens
  • gold mesh coffee filters
  • handkerchiefs
  • beeswax wraps to replace plastic wrap
  • water bottles
  • metal straws
  • rechargeable batteries
  • to-go coffee cups with lids
  • or a thermos
  • a lunch box instead of a paper bag
  • containers to replace plastic bags

What disposables have you eliminated from daily use?

White towels hanging on a clothesline to reduce laundry costs
Lunch bag and apple to save you money when you bring your lunch to work

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