You know the scenario: You’re in a hurry with your take-out and, as you flee the scene, you grab a thick stack of paper napkins — realizing later you have far more than you may ever need.

We’ve all done it; somehow, paper napkins are easily frittered away. Other than a slight pang of guilt, we don’t immediately feel the impact of wasting napkins. Restaurant owners (and our planet) are the ones who pay for our overuse of disposable napkins. To save money, precious resources, and landfill space, here are some eco-tips for restaurateurs regarding paper napkins:

1. Stop the grab-and-go waste:

If you can avoid it, don’t put napkin dispensers out for customers. This may seem strange for a food service establishment, but if customers have to ask an employee for napkins, the restaurant can better control how many are distributed. Your patrons will be less likely to take more than they need if they have to ask. This will save you money and cut down on the environmental impact of paper napkins. If hiding the napkin dispensers is not an option, try putting up stickers reminding people to take only what they need.




2. BYO napkins:

Encourage your customers to try out reusable napkins, such as cloth napkins from home or People Towels. People Towels are a zero-waste product: organic cotton cloths that can be used as napkins or hand towels. They are small, quick-drying, and ultra-portable with handy clips to attach anywhere (backpacks, belt loops, etc). Consider selling People Towels as a paper napkin alternative for extra revenue at your restaurant — they can even be customized with your food service establishment’s name or logo. |image3|

3. Only supply sustainable material napkins:

Fortunately for all the green-minded restaurants out there, many eco-friendly options for napkins are available these days. More and more companies (including established restaurant suppliers like Tork) are developing disposable napkins from sustainable materials. This means prices are reasonable, ranging from $6 to $20 for 1000 napkins, though prices vary depending on the size and type of napkins you need.

Seventh Generation: Sold at big stores like Target and many places online, these napkins are 100% recycled material, with 80-90% post-consumer recycled material.

The Viv Biz Club: Acts as a middle man by offering bulk order discounts to small businesses. They sell several brands of 100% recycled paper napkins, with the PCW recycled content ranging from 20-80%.

Green Feet: Sells disposable napkins made of bagasse (a byproduct of sugar production that is normally burned as waste) and eucalyptus fibers.

Treecycle, Green Home,, and the Green Line Paper Company offer one-stop-shop supply websites. Some price comparison may be required for these resources depending on your needs as a food service establishment. Many styles and sizes of disposable napkins are available and all are either recycled or post-consumer waste recycled materials.

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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