Posts Tagged ‘paper napkins’

Traveling Waste

Ah, summer vacation!  There’s nothing like getting away.  Whether by car, by air, or by train, traveling however, generates a lot of waste!

My husband and I were recently in Asheville, North Carolina.  On the drive from Charlotte to Asheville, we stopped at a Subway restaurant , one of the healthier fast food options, for lunch.  Since I haven’t been to a fast food restaurant in years, I was shocked at the enormous amount of throwaway,non-recyclable products with each order – still!

My salad came in a sturdy, non-biodegradeable plastic bowl covered with a heavy-duty non-biodegradeable plastic lid.  The server gave me not one plastic packet of salad dressing but four.    My iced tea came with a plastic straw, several white sugar packets and a lid, even though we were eating in the restaurant.  In the paper bag  with my lunch ( a tray would have made more sense since we were eating there), was the plastic cutlery in a plastic bag and 6 or more paper napkins!   I returned the sugar packets, the napkins and the unused salad dressings.

fast food waste - plastic cutlery

 

fast food saladfast food salad dressings

 

On my flight to London, we had two throwaway meals.  The cutlery came in its own plastic bag, the salt and pepper in another, the cheese and crackers in another, the cookies in another, and the dinner itself in a plastic container sealed in plastic wrap.  Plastic water bottles, soda cans, stirrers, unused napkins – all I could think about was waste!  Some airlines do some recycling,  but not nearly enough.

I don’t understand why, considering the massive volume of fast food sold everyday and the thousands of daily flights, these companies don’t show more environmental consciousness and use biocompostable, biodegradeable disposable serving containers.  They do exist and plenty of restaurants use them for take out!   Starbucks and McDonalds are going towards more environmentally friendly containers and Dunkin’ Donuts recently eliminated Styrofoam coffee cups, but there is still such a long way to go.  It’s a complex issue I know, with cost being the bottom line.  The next time you are at a fast food restaurant, ask for more environmentally friendly containers.  That’s how change happens.

 

Paper Napkins or Cloth?

 

“In a Gentle Way You Can Shake the World.” – Gandhi

When I came across this wonderful quote, I started thinking about gentle changes that positively impact the earth.  One such change is to switch from paper to cloth napkins.  It sounds silly, but here is the math.  If 50% of the U.S. population used 3 paper napkins a day, that would total 450,000,000 napkins for 1 day or 164,250,000,000 napkins over a 1-year period.  That’s a staggering number of paper napkins!

The manufacture of both cloth and paper napkins obviously uses resources and energy. According to a report published by the Environmental Paper Network, however, the paper industry (which includes all paper products) is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions among United States manufacturing industries, and accounts for 25% of landfill waste and 1/3 of municipal landfill waste.  Additionally, in the manufacture of paper napkins, the chlorine bleach used to whiten them contains toxic compounds and the dyes in decorative napkins are also questionable.  And, paper napkins are only used once!

napkins

napkins (Photo credit: pinprick)

Cloth napkins alternatively, can be used over and over, often lasting for generations.  They can be energy intensive too, but there are several ways to minimize their environmental impact.

  • Unless it’s organic cotton, it’s best to avoid cotton cloth napkins.  Cotton is labeled the world’s “dirtiest” crop because of its heavy insecticide usage.  Instead use linen (which comes from the fibers of the flax plant), hemp, vintage or your own made from fabric remnants.
  • Reuse cloth napkins for 2 or 3 days, depending on how dirty they get.  Buy different colored napkins for each member of the family.  I jokingly match the napkin color to each family member’s personality, my napkin being green of course.  You can also individualize napkin rings.
  • Wash the napkins with regular loads of laundry with environmentally safe detergent, and air-dry them.  In addition to saving energy by air-drying them, I find I don’t have to iron them!

Paper napkins are clearly more convenient, and for entertaining large crowds, picnicking or eating on the run, they make sense. Just make sure to use recycled paper ones.  According to MotherNatureNetwork, “If every household in the U.S. replaced one package of virgin fiber napkins with 100 percent recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.”

Most of the time, however, use cloth ones.  Dig out your grandmother’s beautiful linen napkins and find yourself brought back to a simpler, slower time when gathering around the dinner table for meals and conversation was routine. That’s a pretty gentle change to me!

Information compiled from greengroundswell.com, mnn.com and thedailygreen.com.