Home Publisher's Point of View Where Do You Stand on the Paper Versus Cloth Napkin Debate?

Where Do You Stand on the Paper Versus Cloth Napkin Debate?


ghoptionfour2When you have kids, you go through a lot of paper. My son, who is now five and in kindergarten, recently had a cold for more than two weeks. We had to put the Kleenex box on top of the refrigerator to stop him from using so many. He uses toilet paper like it is going out of style. And, the way he goes through napkins, you would think he had the mouth of a Saint Bernard.

I thought of my son this past week while writing my article on the paper versus cloth napkin debate. What are your thoughts on the topic? I would love to know. From what I read, cloth napkins come out ahead as being more eco-friendly. Of course if you sat down with someone from a paper company they probably would try to convince you otherwise.

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.

Few Said Paper is More Eco-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.

I suspect few of you pulp or recycle paper napkins; most likely end up in the trash and landfill. At a meal most folks also use more than one paper napkin. I am certainly guilty of doing that. Cloth napkins, which tend to be larger than paper napkins, can be used more often during a meal and many times more over its lifetime.

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. Wash a cloth napkin in cold water and its edge over paper increases significantly.

Cloth Napkins Using Recycled Material

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.

An analysis of the environmental impact of a cloth napkin versus a paper napkin would have to consider many variables—everything from raw material sourcing to end-of-life destination. From a general waste-saving perspective, I give the cloth napkin the edge.

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