Using hankies is second nature for me because my mother was an environmentalist and we never had tissues in the house. So I keep a stash of hankies in the bathroom downstairs and one in my handbag. The key is to have enough to last a week-long snotty cold.
But how do disposable tissues stack up against cloth hankies in the environment stakes? Are tissues really worse for the environment even though they are made from renewable resources?
Ever since Kimberly-Clark created tissues to remove cold cream in 1924, they have become the product of choice for nose blowing. Each year Australians consume 273 000 tonnes of tissue products (including toilet paper), most of which is made from virgin fibre.
In terms of water use the cotton hanky wins hands down, using four and half times less water than a virgin tissue. While both paper and cotton production are known for their high water use, the cotton hanky wins because it gets reused (I have assumed the hanky is reused 520 times).
Not surprisingly the hanky also wins in terms of waste, creating 26 times less waste than a tissue.
Energy wise the humble hanky uses three times less energy than a tissue. But if you line-dry your hanky it uses a 1/6 of the energy of a tissue over its lifecycle.
Hankies are greener than tissues, that is, if they actually get taken out of the sock drawer. To really minimise your nose-blowing impact buy organic cotton hankies or, if you can find them, buy hemp, which has a 50 per cent lower eco-footprint.
Even better, buy vintage hankies or make them from scrap fabric. To reduce the laundering impact, wash hankies in cold water and line dry. If you really can’t bring yourself to give up tissues at least try to find ones made from chlorine-free, post-consumer recycled paper and compost them after use.
For a full breakdown as to how I calculated these figures read the original story at Green Lifestyle Magazine.