Giving up disposable cups was a pretty big challenge, so let's ease off the gas a tiny bit with a much simpler swap. This week, we'll ditch disposable paper napkins and opt for reusable cloth ones. Before you get too worked up, I'm specifically talking about paper napkins... we'll tackle paper towels later on this year.
What's wrong with paper napkins
41% of households use paper napkins and the average American uses 2,200 2-ply napkins every year. Here's a great little analogy from Green Groundswell:
If 50% of the U.S. population used 3 paper napkins a day that would total 450,000,000 napkins for 1 day. 0.07 gallons of water is required to produce a 0.08-ounce paper napkin (not including water to grow the tree). It would take 31,500,000 gallons of water to make the 450,000,000 paper napkins used in just one day. This is equivalent to 477 Olympic size swimming pools or daily water use for 315,000 to 393,750 people.
What if the napkins come from recycled material?
There are few places like Starbucks and McDonalds that offer napkins made from recycled material. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, we still have the problem of them ending up in landfills.
Isn't paper recyclable?
Napkins aren't typically recyclable for two reasons:
- The fibers are too short to make any other paper products
- They generally have food contaminates that taint the recycling process
Since they aren't getting recycled, they all end up in a landfill, where it takes 10-15 years to break down.
What should I use instead?
Your best option is to switch to a reusable cloth napkin...preferrably one you already have. If you must buy new, linen is a renewable resource that requires the least amount of water to be made. Even better, you can make one from scrap fabric. To save water, only wash you're napkin when it's actually soiled.
So, how do I properly dispose of a paper napkin?
Paper napkins can be composted as long as they don't have any grease, chemicals, or unnatural dye. Otherwise, you'll have to send them to the landfill.