There was recently an interesting debate in our office—which napkins are actually better for the environment—cloth or paper? While reusable cloth seems the natural choice, consider the water and resources required to grow the cotton and manufacture the cloth napkins. Not to mention the water used to wash the dirty napkins.
This article on Treehugger.com did a good job of comparing the carbon emissions for raw materials and manufacturing for each type of napkin, even taking into account the number of times each would be used in both a home and restaurant setting. Their assessment? Paper napkins are better for restaurants (where cloth napkins must be washed after every use), while cloth are better for home use (where you might use the napkin more than once before washing).
To further reduce your napkin impact, they also suggest you use linen napkins instead of cotton (they last longer), make your own cloth napkins from cloth remnants, and wash napkins in cold water instead of hot. And you can always take your own cloth napkins when you go out to a restaurant.
So happy mouth wiping. And don’t forget to subscribe to The Current for all kinds of handy tips on saving electricity, reducing your carbon footprint and keeping chocolate cake off your face.