Why Tork Certified its Napkins to Be Compostable

Why Tork Certified its Napkins to Be Compostable

Napkin image CC-licensed by Mykl Roventine/Flickr

It seems to go without saying that napkins are compostable. Thin paper with the occasional ink -- nothing stands out that would question if they break down along with food scraps.

But as more restaurants and cafeterias create composting programs, they're also checking the materials they handle to confirm what can be done with them when tossed away. Add in stiff competition for companies' purchasing dollars, and certifications can help products stand out from the pack.

That all led paper product maker SCA to seek verification of the compostability of its Tork brand of napkins, making them the first to carry the Biodegradable Products Institute certification for napkins.

"We're known as a very sustainable and ethical company," said Mike Kapalko, SCA's sustainability marketing manager, "and we just didn't feel it was right to make a claim for something we did not have proof or backup for."

The label means Tork's napkins can quickly break down in municipal and commercial (also referred to as industrial) composting operations. 

Kapalko said customers like national food chains, individual restaurants and cafeterias at universities, campuses and hospitals have been inquiring about proof of compostability. "They're approaching it like they would with a biodegradable fork or a takeout container," he said.

Some businesses are also looking beyond products and what they're made of, Kapalko said, and seeking information about the companies making them, what other products they make, what social programs they have and other non-product details.

In that vein, Tork's goods also carry the EcoLogo and Green Seal certifications, two of the oldest and most reputable eco-logos. Both are given based on an overview of a company's overall operations, including facility audits, raw materials (Tork's napkins are 100 percent recycled content), water and energy use, and waste and emissions generated.

Not only do those labels and the compostability certification speak to what customers are looking for, Kapalko said they make it possible for Tork's products to stand out among the many others that distributors carry by giving businesses a quick way to check their green credentials.

"We think that third-party certifications are absolutely essential for products," he said. "It just eliminates the chance of greenwashing and inflating your claims."

Napkin image CC-licensed by Mykl Roventine/Flickr