Our office has long tried to be “green.” We recycle paper products and aluminum cans. We don’t use styrofoam coffee cups. And, recently, we started using recycled paper napkins at our coffee stations. The napkins are brown and are proudly stamped with the green recycle stamp and the messages “Made with 100% recycled material” and “Save the environment, one napkin at a time.”
The napkins are in a dispenser right next to the sink and the coffee brewer. Their intended use is plain: they are supposed to help you as you rinse out your coffee cup in the morning and scrub out the remaining coffee film. At this simple chore, however, the recycled paper napkins are a complete, abject failure. A single napkin is so flimsy that it dissolves and falls to pieces at the slightest touch of liquid. So, you use three napkins together — thereby saving the environment, three napkins at a time — but as you clean out the cup you realize that you are leaving behind moist, rice-sized paper pellets adhered to the bottom and sides of the cup. The brown paper residue then needs to be swept from the cup, by hand.
We used to have sturdy, presumably non-recycled, napkins for this purpose. One napkin filled the bill admirably and left you with a spotless, shining cup, ready to accept the morning’s first touch of black magic. Now, what used to be a simple, mindless part of the morning routine has become a source of grim frustration, all because the environment-saving recycled napkins suck at their job. The first rule of napkin technology should be, “no residue left behind.” Our gossamer recycled paper napkins not only are incapable of removing existing residue, they compound the problem by leaving their own trail of brown crud.
I’m all in favor of recycling — really I am — but we shouldn’t be guilt-tripped into buying inferior recycled products that fail to perform their intended function. No amount of “green office” awards can make up for the horrors of trying to use recycled paper napkins.