Tag Archives: cloth napkins

“Wipe Out” article in Grid Magazine #031

Do you ever wonder about napkins?  It’s definitely an item that I think about constantly and I can’t tell if I’m perceived as dirty for denying them any chance I get.  Napkins are seen as this free item that can be liberally obtained in any quantity, without question.  Why do you need napkins?  Do you spill food at every sitting, or get your hands and face dirty every chance you get?

I would like to see napkins become an item that isn’t provided unless asked for, with the business in full control of how many are disseminated.  Honestly, how many times have you either taken napkins or received napkins with a meal, only to throw them in the trash after you’re done eating?  They’re only napkins, right?  Yes, but they are a resource that contribute to our wasteful habits.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been observing people when they get up to leave a restaurant and it never fails that unused napkins get trashed…and not one or two, but a tidy stack of them.  I’m always entertained when I get to watch people figure out creative ways to use their stack of napkins before throwing them in the trash.  Wipe the table down?  Wipe your mouth for the third time?  Blow your nose?  I feel like a lot of people are one step away from saying “hold the napkins”.

Did you know that paper makes up a whopping 40% of our landfills?  This is the most prevalent content disposed, and it exceeds plastic bottles, diapers, food waste and appliances combined.  Think about it this way: for as long as you’ve been on the planet, paper hasn’t changed.  It’s always weighed the same and taken up the same space while glass and plastics (bags and bottles alike) have lost nearly half their weight and thickness.

Some paper products such as napkins, paper towels and phonebooks are made of a minimal amount of low grade material, to the point that their recyclability is questionable, but their compostability or (better yet) overall reduction is not.  Yes, it’s a low grade of paper that is most likely near 100% recycled material, but why use it if you don’t need to?

So here’s my challenge for you: Do you really need all the napkins you receive when getting your meal from the lunch truck or at a restaurant?  See what happens when you pocket those extra napkins and tell the server to hold off on them from here on out.  Remember cloth napkins?  They still exist, seemingly at bars and a couple restaurants…that’s not a bad habit to support.  If you’re at an establishment using paper napkins, ask why they can’t go with the cloth alternative.

This one might be a stretch: how about handkerchiefs?  They were a trend that hung out of people’s back pockets for a while, but were they being pulled out at restaurants to wipe hands and blow noses?  I doubt it.  The key here is reuse.

The extreme: have you tried putting your hands into your pockets after you washed them instead of pulling 5 paper towels from the dispenser?  Unless you work in a hospital, chances are you don’t need your hands sanitized and free of visible soil at all times.

Why would I pick such a trivial product to focus on for an entire article?  That’s exactly why.  Paper has a bigger impact than you may think, and you have the power to change that…quite simply, actually.  So go for it- it doesn’t make you dirtier, it makes you a more mindful and in-tune global citizen.