The Humble Hanky

It’s easy to believe we don’t have much say in the way big companies operate.

Yet, if enough people take little actions, collectively we can change business as usual.

For example, organic food sales have now become mainstream, reaching nearly 15 percent of all U.S. fruits and vegetable sales in 2018. Looking around the grocery store, I can see the difference compared to ten years ago. To be certified organic, there are strict rules and regulations that must be adhered to. Industrial agriculture is willing to move that way because consumers will spend their dollars on it. The same goes for anything.

As consumers, we have a lot of power.

Nielson, a global marketing research firm, found 73 percent of global consumers would be likely to change their consumption habits to reduce environmental impact. It makes me so hopeful that so many people are willing to change their habits. It shows people care! Additionally, consumer buying habits have changed dramatically in 2020 because of COVID-19. This is actually an opportunity to take a look at our lifestyles (specifically those of use who live in Westernized countries) in order to create changes that could have a very broad impact. 

We don’t have to wait around for someone to tell us about changes that we can make. Often, with just a little bit of consideration, we can see areas in our own lives that could improve. 

Right now I’m personally working on my paper consumption.

The Tissue Industry

Kleenex facial tissue was introduced in 1924 as a means to remove cold cream. Kleenex wasn’t the only tissue company, but because of effective marketing the name Kleenex is just about simultaneous with facial tissues. 

By 1926 Kimberly-Clark, the creator of Kleenex, received letters from multiple consumers that explained tissues were being used as disposable handkerchiefs. At the time, most people carried around reusable handkerchiefs to blow their noses and for other odd jobs. By changing the advertising to target these jobs, Kimberly-Clark saw the sales of tissue products double. 

An aggressive campaign followed, and these days handkerchiefs seem more a quaint reminder of the past than a sustainable alternative to tissues. In 1955, for example, an ad for Kleenex came out that said, “Don’t put a cold in your pocket—use a fresh Kleenex!”

What’s Dirty? Creating Tissues

Disposable tissue products are made of wood pulp. A machine mixes this pulp with water to form what’s called stock. The wood fibers are then removed from the stock and dried in sheets, rolled, and cut. In addition, chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate, mineral oil, and isopropyl palmitates are often added to tissues for various reasons before the process is complete. 

Americans use about 255,360,000,000 disposable facial tissues a year. Dr. William Yu, the founder and chief executive of World Green Organization, explains that in order to produce a ton of tissue paper, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are contaminated. Even recycled paper tissues have problems—it takes a lot of water to go through that process. Besides, only certain types of paper can be recycled and that lifecycle is limited.

For something that’s supposed to be clean, the production of tissues is anything but. 

Luckily, there is a sustainable and cleaner alternative—the handkerchief.  

A Handkerchief

With just a little bit of preparation, you too can bring back the handkerchief!

Will that be hygienic? you might ask. With a little bit of planning, it can be just as hygienic (if not more so) than carrying tissues. Anything that you use more than once to wipe your nose has the potential to carry germs with it—but that’s true of tissues as well.

Some people who use handkerchiefs carry more than one on their person, and when one is dirty, they place it in a designated place (perhaps a small bag) to be washed later. That’s simple enough. Some people also fold their handkerchiefs so there are multiple “safe spaces”. Either way, it just takes a little getting used to. 

Another awesome perk: In the long run, using handkerchiefs saves money.

A DIY Project

The easiest way to do this is to grab a square of fabric. Cotton is best, but there are other alternatives.. 

Before you go out and buy fabric for a handkerchief, see if you have any old clothes or items lying around that can be cut up. If you don’t have anything, consider going to a thrift store to find fabric (or even used handkerchiefs—washed first, of course). The best places to look for fabric in these stores are with the curtains, blankets, and pillowcases. Next best option is the area of the store that has dresses and plus sizes. Pro tip: when looking for fabric at a thrift store, be sure to carefully check over anything you find. Make sure there are no big stains or damage that will make the fabric unusable. When you get the fabric home, wash it. 

Next, cut a square. This can be any size you prefer: 8×8 inches or 12×12 inches are good options. I personally prefer a smaller size. 

To prevent fabric from fraying: Fold the edges down to create a seam. You can hot press this if you want, but that’s an optional step. Using pins secure these edges. Using a needle and thread, sew a single line around the edge to create a seam. This should be at about ½ inches. 

For in-depth instructions (with pictures and small videos), check out this wikiHow. 

If all of us switched to handkerchiefs, how many trees and how much water could we save? 


Photo Credit: Photo by ernest et lulu on Unsplash