NATIONAL REPORT—Paper or cloth? That is the “napkin” question that is answered in restaurant and other foodservice situations millions of times each day around the world. How that question is answered can have a sizeable impact on the environment and the volume of waste exiting a hotel. Not surprisingly, experts come down on both sides of the issue but most give cloth napkins the edge from a “green” standpoint. Also, as has been discovered time and time again by hoteliers, the kind of napkin presented can significantly impact the guest experience.
Several years ago, Milliken & Company, a producer of table linens, hired a research company to gauge consumer preferences between paper and cloth napkins at sit-down restaurants. The study found that a majority of U.S. consumers prefer to dine at sit-down restaurants with a cloth napkin. Eight-two percent associated cloth napkins with a better restaurant appearance and ambiance, 75 percent associated them with better food quality, 88 percent with better service, and 84 percent with being environmentally friendly.
On environmental concerns specifically, 54 percent of U.S. consumers said cloth napkins were more environmentally friendly than paper napkins. Only 14 percent felt that paper napkins were more environmentally friendly than cloth napkins.
In a typical scenario where paper napkins are present, multiple napkins are used and are then thrown away. Cloth napkins can be reused many times. The environmental impact per cloth napkin varies. Some are made from cotton, some are made from polyester, some are made from recycled polyester, and some are made from blends of cotton and polyester. How a cloth napkin is made and how it is washed also impacts its environmental impact.
Napkins Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
At least two companies serving the lodging industry offer cloth napkins that they say have strong, positive environmental stories. Riegel, a Division of Mount Vernon Mills, Inc., offers RieNu polyester table linen. RieNu is a 100 percent recycled polyester linen. The source of the raw material for RieNu is plastic bottles that are sterilized, dried and crushed into small chips. The chips are melted down and then extruded into a new fiber. The finished fiber can then be woven, dyed, and sewn into napkins and tablecloths in a variety of colors.
Milliken Table Linens offers cloth Signature napkins with ColorSeal technology, ensuring color remains constant wash after wash. Soil release technology means fewer stain rejects, resulting in energy savings and reduced replacement costs. Milliken also offers Signature linens with REPREVE yarns, which are made from recycled bottles. Almost 300 color and pattern combinations are available. Milliken diverts 99 percent of its waste away from landfills and to places where it can be reused or recycled.
Milliken’s Environmental Policy, adopted in November 1990, established a goal of zero waste to all media. In addition, the company actively seeks and uses alternative energy to power its manufacturing plants, such as methane gas produced by local landfills. Such attention to detail and commitment has helped more than 80 percent of its manufacturing facilities obtain ISO 14001 certification—the highest global standard for environmental responsibility. Milliken has set 2020 reduction goals in areas such as water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions from operations, and total energy consumption per unit of production. Since 1991, Milliken has cut its actual water consumption by over 3 billion gallons. Its overall eco-footprint has also been reduced by 43 percent. Milliken has actively pursued renewable energy by operating a small hydroelectric plant near its Spartanburg, S.C. headquarters, and having boilers that produce clean energy from bio-solids and landfill gas.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.