“The clear choice is organic, unbleached cotton napkins,” according to Paul McRandle, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior editor. “Preferably grown with a low water usage irrigation system.” If you already own a bunch of regular cloth napkins, just use them and wash them along with the rest of your laundry load on a cool temperature. And consider hanging them on the line to dry.
Paper napkins are usually discarded in landfills or incinerated and they present other problems, McRandle said. “If they have been treated with chlorine bleach, that can give rise to dioxins in the water and air,” he said. In many cases, he explained, problem chemicals are not contained in a product but are released into the environment during manufacturing.
If for some reason, you absolutely can’t get a cloth napkin, “look for unbleached paper napkins made with as much post-consumer recycled material as possible and look for the symbol showing they were processed chlorine free,” McRandle said. Recycle or compost the napkin if it is only lightly stained.
(Excerpt from Chicago Tribune article by Monica Eng, Tribune reporter July 2010)