I’m going to start straight off the bat and say this post is not going to appeal to everyone.
I have just spent my weekend making re-usable tissues. They’re not quite hankies, a little smaller (like a tissue) and intended only for a single use before they go through the wash.
Why am I doing it you ask? Well, we go through a lot, and I mean a lot, of tissues in our house. Both The Husband and I have unreasonably runny noses, and are susceptible to more than our fair share of hayfever and minor colds. Conscious of this use, I started researching tissue production - both how they're made, and where the wood/pulp comes from.
While Kleenex Australia stopped using Australian native forest in 2001, the wood supply for tissues (and other tissue products) is not out of the woods yet (ha!). Many companies have statements on their websites that say things like 'we promote sustainable forest management and are working towards (some nominal percent) FSC certification/recycled content, in addition, our cartons are made from 80% recycled materials'. I really love the way they sell the box being recycled as if that makes up for the rest!!? To be fair, most tissues are manufactured from plantation softwood, but they're still trees, and the less of them we have to cut down the better.
Once the trees have been cut down, turning them into tissues is not so straightforward. The trees are chipped into small pieces and then mixed with chemicals (either sodium sulfide and sodium hydroxide or a sulfurous acid) to breakdown the cellulose fibres in the wood, creating paper pulp. The pulp is then bleached, drained and dried and made into paper. Generally any effluent from a paper mill is treated on site, but they often have an unpleasant smell (all those sulfur compounds!), and all paper mills use a lot of water (up to 13L per A4 sheet!).
I have a collection of old sheets – usually the flat sheet left from a set after The Husband has put a foot through the fitted sheet - that I haven't been able to bring my self to throw out, they just seem too useful. While they occasionally get used as a drop cloth or for packing material, they're really just taking up space. So this weekend, I cut one sheet (yep, just one. I was planning to do more, but one sheet made A LOT of hankies) into 18cm squares, hemmed them on the overlocker, ironed them neatly in half (not sure how long this step will last, but I can hope) and stacked in a little box that now lives in the bathroom with its accompanying used tissue hamper (an old yoghurt tub). The plan being that I'll just throw the used 'tissues' in with my weekly cleaning cloths wash, as it is never a full load anyway.
If the reusable tissue thing is really not going to work for you, you need to look for paper products that have a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content. It must state 'post-consumer' in some way, as pre-consumer simply means they're re-processing scraps or offcuts from within the supply chain. The Shop Ethical site has a small list ranking the tissue options in Australia.
And while I have made the move to re-usable tissues, I think 'Family Cloth' (even the name is squicky) is a few steps to far for me! Luckily, Choice has written a great review of the Toilet Paper Greenwashing campaigns, and an assessment of the supermarket brands.
What are your thoughts on hankies/reusable tissues? Is that too gross for you? And what about family cloth??