I have been using cloth napkins at the dinner table for a few years now. It’s a habit I picked up from my mother who was always making napkins for holidays, dinner parties and gifts. Not only do you save money, not having to purchase paper napkins, you help protect natural resources and every meal gets a little classier!
There is some debate as to whether paper or cloth napkins produce a larger carbon footprint, but my assessment is that if you use a set of cloth napkins for more than a year, washing them efficiently, hands down, you are saving resources. If you do choose paper, it should be 100% recycled post-consumer waste and unbleached. Here are some articles offering statistics and opinions on the matter.
If you want to see some raw data on carbon footprint and water usage, check out this sustainability engineer’s answer (2007) to the “which is better?” question.
The same writer follows up with this 2009 article explaining how a recycled paper napkin is a better option in restaurants and that cloth napkins prove greener at home.
This blogger addresses the pros and cons of both types and stresses that there are no blanket answers for these types of questions.
As consumers and users, it is perhaps the best course of action to make decisions that suit our lifestyles and whenever possible, help the environment. Our purchases should make us feel good and maybe even inspire us.
Paper (100% recycled PCW of course!) are great when you are taking your PB&J on the road, and can be composted. At home, cloth napkins can make every meal just a little more special, you only buy them once, and well-made, durable napkins can become family heirlooms. If you wash them efficiently in biodegradable soap, all the better!