Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


Rant about disposable napkins (Apr09)

“Do you ever find it annoying when you’re given wads of napkins and bags you don’t need?”. I was amazed to find this statement on Pret a Manger’s website. The answer is ‘yes – very annoying’.

The reason for my surprise was because I think that Pret is once of the worst culprits of napkin mania. And I experienced it only last week. I ordered ‘one capuccino please, with no napkin and no lid’. The man serving me was a bit hesitant about the request for no lid – but unlike the train catering trolley people he didn’t try and insist. And he didn’t give me a napkin.

But the chap serving the girl next to me was another matter. He shoved a bundle of napkins on her tray – at least four. And she was only buying a chocolate muffin and a drink. Before I realised what was happening, I exclaimed – “Why are you giving out so many napkins – she only needs one.” He looked a bit startled and said that the company policy was to give out one napkin for each product bought. Of course that’s nonsense – and I told him so.

Having explained that Pret a Manger had an environmental policy and that he should be reducing waste I handed him back the excess napkins – checking with the girl that she didn’t actually want them. I’m not sure she would have said, even if she did, because she looked a little nervous.

I should point out that I don’t generally leap in on behalf of complete strangers, although my family are very familiar with my over-the-top reaction to disposable napkins. I’ve taken to carrying around a small cotton pouch in my bag with unused napkins I’ve collected. This means I encourage anyone I’m with to send back napkins when we’re eating out – and use mine, if necessary.

OK, so this might seem a bit eccentric. Some of my friends have taken to sharing their napkin by tearing it in two to demonstrate their frugality!

It’s by no means the most serious issue on the planet. But I think that disposable napkins are truly symbolic of our wasteful society. They’re served in abundance – under bread rolls, with bottled water, wads with your sandwich – they’re often unused and they’re left lying around where they’re not wanted (see photo I took at Waterloo station). And it’s almost impossible to eat out without being given one – even when you’re as vigilant as I am…

I’m not suggesting that you should never wipe your hands or your face after eating. But why not restrict your napkin usage to when you really need one? And don’t be mislead into thinking it’s alright if they’re ‘environmentally friendly’. Even if they’re made from recycled paper they’re wasteful – and we’d be better off without them…

Comment Section

0 Responses

  1. Are these what working-class-and-proud-of-it types like me would call serviettes ??

    Did this not cause confusion a few years ago if you asked hubby to put a fresh napkin on the baby’s bottom?

    Just a thought…

  2. On a slightly more serious point, I am a tiny bit surprised that you are using ‘Pret a Manger’. Since they are owned by McDonald’s aren’t they really just as bad as Starbucks et al ?

    Or have these chains ‘gotten their act together’ recently ? I am more of a ‘tea shop’ bloke myself, so I cannot claim to be up to speed on the latest developments here.

Leave a Reply