Are hankies better than tissues?

Are tissues really bad 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. But how bad are they for the environment?


If you compare the water, waste and energy consumption between tissues and hankies  the picture is pretty clear. 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.

The verdict

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 than cotton.

Even better, buy vintage hankies or make them from scrap fabric. To reduce the laundering impact, wash hankies in cold water and line dry.

For a full breakdown as to how I calculated these figures read the original story which I wrote for Green Lifestyle Magazine.

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