Today most people use paper napkins while eating. Nevertheless, paper napkins were not instantly embraced by Americans when they first became available, and even today their usage is questioned by many who are environmentally conscious.
As early as 1887, John Dickinson used paper napkins at his company's party in the United States. The first American company to introduce paper napkins was Scott Paper, but that did not occur until 1931. Other paper products, including tissues and paper towels, were also introduced around this time, but using paper napkins did not become popular in the United States until the 1950s.
Paper napkins are convenient because they eliminate the need to wash napkins, and they guarantee that the user will have a clean napkin. They are also lightweight and easy to pack when eating on the run. Thicker paper napkins are easiest to fold. Paper napkins come in a wide variety of sizes, patterns and styles.
Paper napkins consume natural resources and pollute landfills, when cloth napkins could do the job. Napkins bleached with chlorine may contain dioxins and other toxins. Additionally, some paper napkins are thin, tear easily, may not absorb well, and may be abrasive to the skin.
You can take steps to minimize environmental waste. Limit the number of napkins you use, and those that are put on the table but not used should be reserved for later use. If food spills, wipe it up with a sponge instead of paper napkins or towels. Choose paper napkins that come in bulk since the packaging is greener than purchasing more packages in a smaller size. Look for paper napkins that are unbleached and made from recyclable material. Use the smallest napkin size that will efficiently do the job.
The average person uses six paper napkins daily. However, using cloth napkins is only greener if the napkins are used more than once and washed with a regular laundry load. Laundry loads just for napkins can waste water and detergent.