Cloth napkins can make your meals both fun and waste-free… and I have thrown in a few other fun ideas as well! Your great-grandmother would NEVER use paper napkins maybe she knew a thing or two!
While you won’t find paper towels and disposable napkins floating in the Great Pacific garbage patch, it doesn’t mean they’re harmless to the planet. It takes 20,000 gallons of water and 17 trees to make one ton of paper towels. Decomposing paper towels product methane gas, and 3,000 tons of them head to the landfill each day in the U.S. alone.
Cloth napkins have SO many benefits:
- High-quality napkins can last you years.
- A one-time purchase will save you money in the long run — you’ll be reducing the amount you spend on disposables, and you’ll be eliminated a source of waste in your home — talk about a win!
- They’re the perfect addition to your waste-free lunch! Friends and parents will be asking where you got them — trust us, we’ve been there.
- For cleanup, cloth absorbs more liquid than paper; one napkin can hold 3-4 times the amount of a paper towel.
- They’re great to line bowls of crackers, chips, or bread, to use on a plate under appetizers, and as trivets, coasters, even hot pads in a pinch.
- A formal dinner table looks infinitely more classy with cloth napkins and even a tv dinner gets a lift.
- Picnics are more fun (and far less wasteful) with pretty reusable napkins. This is an interesting benefit I wouldn’t have considered. Cloth napkins don’t get all scrunched up in your picnic basket or cooler. They don’t blow away when you’re outside. On a road trip they can be reused over and over. Of course, you need to pack them back with you, but unless everything you’re taking with you is disposable, you’ll probably have to pack something back anyway.
- A Soft napkin is easy on a child’s delicate skin and won’t leave fibers behind to pull moisture.
- They can also double as a placemat!
- They’re super handy when traveling or out and about with kids, and they look a lot better than a wadded up tissue when you need to wipe a face. I’ve been keeping them in the back pockets of the car seats to use for whatever messy kid occasion arises – a few dabs on a dirty face here and there, spilled water bottles, cold legs – all can be solved with a cloth napkin.
- Use them to wrap bread and rolls they will stay fresher longer.
- They make great gift wrapping. I’m a huge fans of furoshiki style wrapping, and adore gift wrapping with purpose.
- Teach the family to reuse their cloth napkins throughout the week, until they are dirty and ready to wash.
- Give everyone their own personal napkin rings that way you can reuse the napkins for the same person until they are ready for the wash.
Cloth Napkins are better for the environment
This is a biggie. I’ve heard that the average American uses 6 paper napkins a day !!! That’s 8,760 paper napkins for my family of four in a year. That sounds like a lot of trees. Paper napkins pollute landfills and are usually bleached with chlorine and contain toxins (recycled napkins are better, if you must). They are then packaged in plastic and shipped to the store, where you then pick it up and drive them home (CO2 emissions). And that process is repeated over and over.
It needs to be said that cloth napkins aren’t perfect, either. There are a few things you should do to make sure your cloth napkin usage is environmentally optimal:
- Cotton processing has some negative effects on the environment, so organic cotton is better than regular, and natural linen is even better than cotton. That said, as much as I love linen, it’s very prone to wrinkling. I don’t know about you, but ironing napkins is never going to be part of my routine.
- If you do separate “napkin washes” in hot water, you could be using a lot of water and energy. If you throw them in with the rest your wash when they’re dirty, it’s really not adding to the laundry at all.
- Reusing cloth napkins is better than using them once. What’s critical here, of course, is keeping track of whose napkin is whose.
- Take a look at Norwex Napkins they are soft, absorbent cloth but they are actually made from 50% recycled materials! Each set is made from the equivalent of five recycled plastic bottles. Amazing!!
Another reason for using cloth napkins over paper:
Add a little more goodness to your home
How did I feel about my paper napkins? I didn’t feel anything. They were just there, to be used and thrown away. I did some thinking on the matter and realized that it’s all of the above, combined, that makes me feel good whenever I use my cloth napkins.
I am reminded of the quote by good old William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Cloth napkins are both. Add to that the fact that you’re doing less harm to the environment, and they’re an all-around good thing.