Opinions: Bring back the handkerchief

Bring back the handkerchief

Tissues are an issue
Nivedan Kaushal / contributor

Sneezing. It happens at the worst times – polluting the upper lip with thick, slimy snot. Ugh. Most people would just grab a tissue and move on, but tissues are a bigger problem than the mucus they wipe away.

North Americans produce approximately three times as much tissue paper waste than Europeans. It’s no surprise then, that the Canadian tissue paper industry generated over $40.5 billion in 2017. While those figures include the sales of paper towels, toilet paper and other forms of sanitary paper, it nevertheless speaks to North America’s obsession with soft, plush tissue products. This fixation is incredibly strenuous on the environment. After all, tissue paper is paper.

Fluffy tissues may be comforting, but their production has a detrimental impact on South American forests whose trees are harvested in the millions just for household sanitary paper. While recycled materials can be used to produce any sort of tissue, getting that pillow-y goodness requires long fibers obtained from freshly harvested lumber. As James Malone, a spokesman for the maker of Quilted Northern, a popular US toilet paper brand, said, “recycled fiber cannot do it.” When it comes to just wiping away snot, however, there’s a simpler solution. Carry a handkerchief.

There’s far more to carrying this square piece of cloth than just wiping your nose. Let’s start with the basics. For cleaning something — glasses, a phone screen, whatever — a handkerchief can come in handy. They are also significantly more cost effective than their tissue-based counterparts. While it may be cheaper in the short term to run to the corner store and buy some Kleenex, handkerchiefs are a one-time purchase, given the fact that they are made of cloth.

Illustration by Cynthia Tran Vo

The real value of a handkerchief, however, lies in its ability to rescue an embarrassing scenario. When ketchup lands on a clean shirt or when coffee spills on a favorite pair of jeans, tissues are useless. They tear far too easily. On the other hand, being equipped with a handkerchief makes damage control a whole lot easier.

Some are probably thinking by now, carrying around a snot infested, ketchup ridden, coffee stained cloth in their back pocket is the most unsanitary practice ever. Firstly, unless there’s sickness or allergies involved, no one sneezes every 30 seconds. Secondly, it takes an astonishing amount of clumsiness to constantly get condiments on clothes. Lastly, don’t forget that handkerchiefs are made of fabric. Like any other dirty piece of cloth, just toss them in the laundry and grab a new one the next day.

Some may also be thinking that handkerchiefs are plain uncool. The square cloth has a history of charm and charisma, however. Men and women carried the handkerchief as a symbol of sympathy, offering it to friends, family and romantic partners who may be in need of something to cry into. Depending on the material of the cloth, they can even double as a pocket square in sharp a suit.

Clearly, the handkerchief needs to make a revival. It’s simple, it’s utilitarian and it’s classy. And it reduces your carbon footprint. Besides, you never know when you might get ketchup on yourself.

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