Sometimes I forget how strange things may seem to others that seem perfectly normal to Andrea and myself. When my Dad was visiting on Saturday, he asked for a napkin when we were eating lunch. I told him where the cloth napkins were, and he seemed hesitant to use them. I think he would have preferred using a disposable napkin, I suppose because dirtying a cloth one seems to create more work for whomever is going to wash them.
We've been using cloth napkins for months, possibly even a couple of years. Its been long enough that I've lost track of when we started. It has become completely routine for us, but its clearly foreign to many people. Initially we began using cloth napkins as a way of avoiding the waste that comes with using disposable napkins. What I found, though, is that I much prefer using the cloth napkins. Since switching I've noticed the same to be true in restaurants. Our napkins are nothing like those you get in a restaurant, but they work just as well.
To make the napkins Andrea simply cut some fabric into squares, and then sewed the edges to prevent them from unraveling. That's it. There is nothing fancy about our napkins, and they are not difficult to make. She used fabric that she already had on hand, but even purchasing the fabric new would cost very little. A single yard of fabric can yield twelve napkins that are 11 inch squares.
I tend to re-use the same napkin multiple times. I find that most of the time when I use a napkin its simply to wipe crumbs away or wipe something like butter or pasta sauce from my hands. Once the napkins get dirty, we can just throw them in the washing machine and let them be washed when Andrea does her next load of laundry. Even if all of our napkins are dirty, they take up so little space that there is really no additional cost or use of resources to wash them.
I don't know how many napkins we've saved from going to the landfill by using cloth napkins. Its really a hard thing to estimate as we don't always use napkins with every meal. Lets just assume, though, that we would each use 3 napkins per day, one for each meal. That is 6 napkins per day between the two of us, or 2,190 napkins per year. At $10.00 for 1,000 napkins, the cost works out to approximately $21.90 per year. That isn't a significant savings, but it is a savings. We didn't switch to cloth napkins, though, to save money. We switched because we wanted to reduce the waste associated with paper napkins, and reduce he demand for their production. Granted, the overall impact isn't great, but its just one small thing that we can do to reduce the impact we are having on our environment. It is a very simple change to make and saves us money, so for us it was an easy decision to make.