Does using paper napkins have a high carbon impact?
I found a few different references for this:
- 10 g CO2e per paper towel (from the Guardian, 2010)
- 10 g CO2 per paper napkin (from Treehugger, 2009)
- 7.3 g CO2e per virgin paper towel (from MIT/Dyson study, 2011)
- 7.4 g CO2e per recycled paper towel (same study)
While several of these studies are looking at hand drying (for which I wrote an earlier answer), the Treehugger article looked specifically at napkins used during a meal, considering the manufacture as well as washing and drying.
Looking at linen, cotton, and paper napkins, the study found that paper napkins are best in a restaurant setting where cotton or linen napkins would likely be washed in hot water with chemicals after each meal.
For home use, linen napkins are preferable to cotton napkins (112 g CO2e vs 1 kg, respectively, for production), and both are better than paper if washed only when needed. Additionally, washing in cold water with a natural detergent and line drying will further reduce impact.