Dining Services saves nearly $20,000 after decrease in napkin use

In this file photo, a wall-mounted napkin dispenser is seen in South Dining Hall. Dining Services recently shifted over to more widespread use of wall-mounted dispensers instead of having a dispenser on each table. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

After moving napkin holders from the tables to wall-mounted dispensers in the University of Connecticut’s eight dining halls, Dining Services expected to see a decrease in napkin usage and an increase in money saved – but they weren’t expecting the savings to be so radical, according to assistant director Michael White.

Last year, the department saved a total of $19,484.14 and purchased 2,316,000 less napkins than the previous year, according to statistics White provided.  

“I expected to see a drop off; but I didn’t expect an almost $20,000 savings,” White said. “The data simply justifies the move.”

Two years ago, Dining Services observed a problem with wasted napkins in the dining halls. Unused napkins were seen coming into the dish returns, and students were observed taking small stacks of napkins they didn’t end up using. At this time, napkin holders were positioned on each table, White said.

“Our goal as a department has been to address areas where we can become more sustainable,” White said.

Putnam Refectory and Northwest Dining Hall piloted the wall-mounted napkin dispensers in 2012-2013, purchasing the same amount of napkins, just packaged differently so they would fit in the dispenser, White said.

When that was successful, Dining Services decided to switch to wall-mounted napkin dispensers in the rest of the dining halls as well. In the 2013 – 2014 school year, the department purchased 1398 cases of napkins (6,000 napkins per case), and in the 2014 – 2015 year, 1012 cases, White said.

At a Student Services Committee meeting covered by the Daily Campus in September 2014, chairman Kailee Himes reported that UConn had saved 336,000 napkins since changing the napkin location in all dining halls.

However, this change seemed to upset many students, who complained about the “scarcity of napkins,” Himes said in the article.

“This is not something to complain about just because it’s inconvenient,” Himes said. “This is the epitome of a first world problem.”

White said he is fascinated by the fact that such a simple change that is intended to promote sustainability at the university can “disrupt life” for students.

“My intention is not to throw a student’s life upside down by not having napkins on the table,” White said. 

Despite the initial controversy, each dining location has succeeded in saving napkins, as seen in the data table, according to statistics provided by White.

Dining Services is constantly looking toward going green and buying local, White said. They also take the time to evaluate and reevaluate products and product design in an attempt to make things more efficient. The napkin change was part of this push toward sustainability, White said.

 “Our objectives are to makes things better,” White said. “And sometimes that is reflected in a recipe, a special diet accommodation, training, renovations, purchases, or in this case, an adjustment in behavior with a connection to sustainability – all through the location of a napkin.”


Molly Stadnicki is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at molly.stadnicki@uconn.edu. She tweets @molly_stadnicki.