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This month’s challenge takes place in your pocket.

June goal: To reduce non-recyclable paper tissue waste

If you’re trying to do your part for the environment, getting rid of single-use items (especially non-recyclable single-use items) is high on your list. But there’s one item in this category that is often overlooked. This month’s challenge is a simple one. It’s something that contributes to landfill waste because it cannot be recycled. It’s something that has a low-cost, easy alternative. But it’s also one that many people balk at: using a handkerchief.

With winter settling in, cold and flu season is unfortunately upon us. Winter’s cold mornings also bring drippy noses and watery eyes. When you have a sniffle or a sneeze coming on, what do you reach for? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably a disposable paper tissue.

Paper tissues are generally used only once, cannot be recycled, and are all too often made from virgin tree pulp – that means directly from a tree. Surely, there’s a better way to wipe away something that is made up mostly of water?

Handkerchiefs are what many environmentalists would refer to as low-hanging fruit. The term describes a change that is easy to make, inexpensive to implement, has a genuine impact on environmental sustainability, and is basically a no-brainer. But this particular low-hanging fruit is often overlooked. So why aren’t we all walking around with a handkerchief in our pocket?

Part of it is modern convenience. Part of it is good advertising. And part of it is the ‘ick’ factor. But hankies don’t have to be gross. Some simple hygiene tips can keep your hands clean and your germs away from others:

  • Use a fresh, clean handkerchief every day.
  • Have good hand hygiene: wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose.
  • Put used hankies away in a place where they won’t be handled by your or others until you can get it home and in the wash.
  • Launder your handkerchiefs regularly. Throwing them in with your regular washing will do the trick.
  • Air drying, in the sunshine, also helps keep handkerchiefs clean and fresh.
  • Need a deeper clean? Try pre-soaking hankies in hot water with a splash of white vinegar, then washing as usual.

Handkerchiefs are sturdy, durable, reusable, won’t leave bits behind on your face, won’t disintegrate in the washing machine and can double as a sweat-blotter, emergency serviette or glasses wipe (if clean!). Need more? Check out this list of 30 reasons to carry a handkerchief.

Remember that the purpose of these challenges is to give a new environmentally friendly behavior a try. If it doesn’t work for you right now, that’s ok. But for this month, talk to your grandma, visit an op shop, or look around your scrap fabric bin to find yourself a hankie. Give it an honest try and tell us what you think!

How to participate:

Choose the level below that works for you, and don’t forget to upload a picture of yourself and your handkerchief! Include the hashtag #OSOFSustainableMe and #OurSeasOurFuture, and we will feature you on our Instagram feed and Facebook Page/s.

June Challenge

Here’s what to do:

Beginner: Find a handkerchief and use it! Better yet, find a bunch of them so you can always have a clean one on hand.

Intermediate: Already using a handkerchief or just want to boost this month’s challenge? Add in cloth napkins if you use paper ones, and/or ditch paper towels. These are other examples of problematic single-use paper items that end up in landfills.

Advanced: Re-evaluate all your home disposable paper use – switch to 100% recycled or bamboo toilet paper, make your own cloth wet wipes (not just for babies), or if you’re feeling really brave, try washable cloth toilet paper!

How does it help?

Making paper uses lots of water as well as harsh bleaching chemicals to attain that pure white look. Most tissues are made from virgin (non-recycled) fiber meaning they’re coming directly from trees. Because they cannot be recycled, tissues and paper towels end up in our landfills. Choosing and using reusable cloth saves water, reduces the number of trees that need to be harvested to support your lifestyle, and reduces landfill inputs. All of these things add up to a healthier, more sustainable world.


Where to buy:

For a large selection of handkerchiefs to buy online, check out Rayner’s, or find a wealth of both vintage and modern hankies on Etsy.

Handkerchiefs are also available at The Warehouse and Farmers.

Crafty? Or don’t see something you like? Make your own!

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