Paper Napkins Put in Garbage Do Not Recycle Unused paper napkins cannot be recycled because the fibers are too short to be made into new paper. Used paper napkins also cannot be recycled because they are usually soiled with food or grease, which contaminates the recycling process. Ways to Reduce Use Cloth Instead of Paper Napkins Rather than use paper napkins at home, buy a set of cloth napkins to use instead. Both linen and cotton cloths are more eco-friendly than single-use paper napkins. Choose Unbleached Paper Products Most paper products that are white or decorative have been chemically bleached and dyed. Opt for undyed, unbleached paper products to reduce the chemical exposure for you and the environment.