The Hankie Challenge: How to have a zero waste cold

Author: Claire Kaufman

I came down with a nasty cold this week. It’s been a lot of rest and tea and…snot.  Since I’ve been trying to reduce my waste I don’t use tissues anymore; instead, I use handkerchiefs.

Ah, the magnificent hankie. It’s actually one of the more recent zero waste swaps I made.  But over the past year I’ve come to love my handkerchief and never leave home without it. This little square of fabric can be used for wiping up spills, taking off makeup and, of course, blowing your nose.


I love it so much that I became curious why the disposable tissue took over the snot market in the first place

As it turns out, Kleenex, the first disposable facial tissue, was created for women to wipe off makeup in 1924.  Soon after, their marketing team to advertise Kleenex as a way to avoid spreading germs: “the handkerchief you can throw away.” This elevated Kleenex from being a niche product for women to a universal product for everyone.

Today, the average American uses about two boxes of tissues per month. That means, on average, Americans all together use over 7.8 billion boxes of tissues a year (yep, billions).

All of these tissues come from trees. When trees are chopped down, we endanger plants and animals that live in forests and increase the severity of climate change.  When we process the raw tree into tissues, we use a lot of water and energy and emit a lot of pollution. Not to mention, many brands of tissues are loaded with toxic chemicals that we don’t want anywhere near our faces.  

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Once they are used, tissues end up in landfill or in our oceans. Poor fish. Ick.

Which leads me to my final thought: is the handkerchief really unsanitary?

It’s undeniable that snot does carry germs. But whether you blow your nose in a tissue and throw it away or blow your nose in a handkerchief and fold it up and wash it, you will be exposed to the same amount of germs.  

The way I see it, it’s basically like eating dinner from a fork that’s later washed and eaten from again. It wouldn’t be sanitary to pass the fork around while eating from mouth to mouth, but once it’s washed it can go back in circulation. Same for the hankie.

Finally, the good ole hankie saves money.  Even though one box of tissues is cheap, disposables will always cost more in the long run. I’ve started to cut up old t-shirts to increase my handkerchief supply.  And seriously, my nose thanks me (no more nostril chafing)!

If you made it to the end of this article I’m glad I didn’t gross you out too much. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to my tea and take a nap. yay.


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