Switching From Tissues to Handkerchiefs

If you live in a house with small children, avoiding the cold and flu season feels impossible. During those years where cold and flu season stretches into hay fever season it is game over for the sinuses. The combination of colds and pollen was particularly bad for us this year.

When we got our new worm farm, I decided to start putting the used tissues in with the other waste. Seeing our tissues for just half an hour piled up high in the worm food bucket was a revelation. I knew we used a lot of tissues, but it wasn’t until we collected them that I realised just how habitual they had become for us. Runny nose? Grab a tissue. Small spill on the table or floor? Grab a tissue. Child with a dirty face? Grab a tissue. I was even blowing my nose because I was walking past a tissue box, not necessarily because I needed to do it.

The obvious solution to this problem was to switch back to old fashioned hankies. It had been so long since I last used any that I didn’t know where you could even buy them anymore. I knew that they were still around somewhere, because our oldest daughter had been given some as a gift, but those had also been sent from overseas.

When I asked my mother if she knew where to buy them, she said that she still had all of my grandfather’s hankies in a drawer that we were welcome to take. I said yes, so the next time I saw her she brought around the surplus. Some of them were still in unopened packets, the tape so old that it stained the fabric yellow.

As soon as I had the hankies in my possession, I immediately remembered why I switched to using tissues. I first learned how to iron by ironing these hankies and, as I threw them into the washing machine, all I could think of was how many hours of my life were going to be dedicated to this chore. Then it dawned on me that if I didn’t care whether they were ironed or not then there was no need for me to do it. My partner saw me folding them and putting them away – unironed – and was weirdly excited that we had made the decision to skip ironing.

Once it came time to use the hankies, I found myself resistant to making the switch. The texture on my face was different, I wasn’t throwing it away as soon as I had used it, and it took me more than a week to get past the ick factor of reusing it. However, as soon as I realised that since I’m the one washing them I can swap mine as often as I like, it immediately stopped bothering me.

Hankies

Getting to the point of happy hanky use took me longer than anyone else in the family. The kids like the colours and patterns of the hankies far more than the plain white tissues, and my partner really couldn’t give a stuff either way. Where the change became real for me was when I went through the house and literally hid all of our tissues in a cupboard so that I wouldn’t use them. I now have a few strategically placed collections of clean hankies where the tissue boxes used to be.

By switching from tissues to hankies we’re saving about $100 a year. Our laundry costs haven’t really changed because the hankies are going in with our regular load and washing them takes less time than buying tissues did. Then there is the obvious environmental benefit from eliminating a type of single use item from our lives. Most importantly for me, the skin around my nose has stopped cracking and peeling the way it does when I use too many tissues.

If you’re playing along at home…

…how can you reduce the amount of tissues that you use? Please let us know in the comments if you have switched to hankies or found another alternative.

Reducing Plastic Bags

This year two of the major supermarkets in Victoria stopped providing shoppers with single use plastic bags. They’ve replaced these throw away, thin grey bags with sturdier plastic bags that cost 15c … and will probably be thrown away because who wants to reuse such an awful bag? Then there are those other thin bags that are everywhere in the fresh food section, and they’re such a convenient temptation that I’m sometimes filling one before I even realise that I’ve taken it off the roll. When you step out of the supermarket and into the other stores, it’s still a plastic bag free for all.

Plastic bags are habitual, but they’re also a major problem for several reasons:

  • They need to be manufactured, transported, and all those other energy using activities;
  • They’re clogging up land fill – if we’re lucky;
  • They’re clogging up the oceans and being eaten by marine wildlife – because we’re not that lucky.

We’ve all heard about bringing green bags with us to the shops, but there’s a big gap between buying a reusable bag and using a reusable bag. No plastic bag that enters our house is single use any more. Changing this behaviour was surprisingly easy.

Reusable bags and plastic bags.
The green bag on the left contains our reusable bags, and the plastic bag on the right contains all of our remaining single use bags for more than a year.

We have a space in our pantry where we collect our bags. The reusable bags are folded as soon as we unpack our shopping and put inside the green bag. Inside this bag is also a zip lock bag that has all of our single use bags from the fresh food section. We simply shake them out when we get home, fold them up, and put them back in for the next trip. Whenever someone is going to the shops, we take this bag on our way out the door.

Since remembering to bring the bags is sometimes difficult, we have a small supply of bags in the glove box of each car. These bags are for those days when you’re already out of the house and you realise that you need to pick up something on the way home.

Because I’m a paranoid sort of person who doesn’t trust her ability to remember anything of any importance when dealing with small children, I also have two small bags in my backpack. These bags tend to be what I use if I’m shopping outside the supermarket. I keep them next to my purse, which makes it easier to refuse a plastic bag at the cash register.

There are a lot of times when getting a plastic bag is unavoidable. Sometimes you just don’t have enough reusable bags with you. Friends and family will bring things to you in a plastic bag. I’ve even seen single use plastic bags used as padding inside a parcel. We just collect these bags in a central location and use them for taking things back to family and friends, holding wet clothes if the children need to be changed when we’re out, and as bin liners. If our pile of bags gets too big then we pack them up and take them to a bag recycling drop off point.

If you’re playing along at home…

… where do you keep your reusable bags so that you don’t forget to take them to the shops? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Reducing Postal Mail

For quite a while, I used to keep our recycling bin on the front porch. I would come home, empty the mail box, and dump wads of paper into it before I even made it into the house. Things became so extreme that at one point I had taught our most frequent guests to do that recycling for me.

Now that we’re trying to get a bit smarter about our impact on the planet, we want to reduce and hopefully eliminate as much of the paper that we receive in our mail box as possible. There are two things that we receive:

  1. Junk mail such as catalogues, pamphlets, and brochures pretending to be legitimate letters; and
  2. Letters and packages that we actually need or want.

According to 1 Million Women, junk mail in Australia accounts for 6% of our annual paper use at a cost of more than 100 million trees. They also advise that eliminating 1 tonne of junk mail saves 17 trees, 2.3 cubic metres of landfill, 31,400 litres of water, 4,200 kilowatt hours of energy, 1,600 litres of oil and avoids 26 kilograms of air pollutants. If I have a choice between my grandchildren being able to see an old growth forest or me seeing a catalogue filled with crap I don’t want to buy, this is an easy choice to make.

Happily, reducing your junk mail is as simple as putting a sticker on the letterbox that says “No Advertising Material” or “No Junk Mail”. Cleanup Australia advises that you can get one for free by contacting the Distribution Standards Board. You have to post them a stamped, self addressed envelope and they’ll post a sticker back to you. Since that was too ironic for me to deal with, I just picked up one from our local hardware store for less than $5.

Reducing the mail that we want to receive was slightly more work, but just as easy. All of the companies that we do business with offer email bills and statements, and making the switch was as simple as a phone call or logging in to their online portals. We have eliminated paperwork from our banks and utility companies. This has benefits beyond the environmental: it will now be much harder for anyone to use the contents of our mailbox for identity fraud.

But the biggest improvement for our quality of life? Now there is just so much less cleaning to do.

If you’re playing along at home…

…can you take any steps to reduce the amount of paper coming into your mail box? Please share in the comments any additional tricks that you and your family used to reduce the printed materials you receive.