September 9, 2010

Little Lulu The Hankie Slayer

My ten year old niece was just here for a visit. As we sat and discussed the counter culture from a grade 5 perspective, I pulled a hankie from my pocket and wiped my nose. Wow. Talk about counter culture - how many people under eighty use hankies these days?

My revolutionary act prompted a series of questions. I told her the first time one of her other uncles saw me use a hankie he quickly said, "old man". She laughed and coined what she thought was a more appropriate term - Hankie Man (not to be confused with Mr. Hankey of South Park fame). She cajoled me into sitting for a short video extolling the virtues of cloth handkerchiefs over disposable products.

I have been using hankies for many years now. Because of my love of the trees, I have rarely bought paper plates, towels, napkins, cups, or 'facial tissue'. I do use 'bottom tissue', but only the variety made from 100% post-consumer paper.

I am always considering adding toilet paper to the ever-expanding 'not buying anything' list. Using water, like billions of other people on the planet, is looking like the best option. I have had 2 and a half months of practice (proct-ice?) while visiting India. In most ways it is a far better way of cleansing, but still it is a hard shift to make here at home. Paper is so, well, scratchy actually, but is also so darn convenient.

However, convenience is the killer of quality, and in the case of single use paper products, the quality is forests around the world. Behemoths like Kimberly-Clark, the largest tissue product company in the world, have razed even old growth forests in their quest to meet North America's insatiable appetite for papery convenience.

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute notes the positive impact we can have on our forests by readopting the reusable products of old:
"The use of paper, perhaps more than any other single product, reflects the throwaway mentality that evolved during the last century. There is an enormous possibility for reducing paper use simply by replacing facial tissues, paper napkins, disposable diapers, and paper shopping bags with reusable cloth alternatives."

Kimberly-Clark Corporation first introduced facial tissue to North America when it started producing Kleenex in 1924. Prior to the introduction of this product - initially for removing makeup - one would not be caught without a nice, soft hankie tucked into a pocket or sleeve. Possibly monogrammed. And good for waving at sports events (the first towels that got waved at hockey games were hankies). Try that with a Kleenex - "Wave it. Throw it Away."

My mom remembers when she was young and responsible for pre-washing her dad's hankies. Needless to say it was not a favoured activity. Indeed, complaints of hankies being unhygienic tend to resound whenever the topic comes up with tissue users (or tissue pushing corporations). Such complaints are overblown. One may find handkerchiefs 'gross', but they are not unhygienic. Just change them regularly, and wash in hot water with the rest of your laundry. When you sneeze into your sleeve you don't throw your shirt out when you get home - you wash it.

In the 1940's Kimberly-Clark capitalized on the gross factor in a new advertising campaign. The tag line was "Don't Carry a Cold in Your Pocket", and it helped replace the handkerchief with disposable paper tissue. Little Lulu was recruited to push the product, and we bought it. The ultimate symbol of the throw-away society was born. In the process, Little Lulu and her tissue pushed the ecologically responsible (organic) cotton hankie to the back of the drawer.

Little Lulu The Hankie Slayer should have been arrested along with Kimberly-Clark directors for crimes perpetrated against nature. The lowly hankie should never have been banished for seven decades, and we should never have traded our forests for convenience.

But we are in a time of rapid change and ecological enlightenment - the banished hankie will triumph again. Cloth handkerchiefs are beginning to grace the pockets of tree lovers, while some never abandoned them in the first place. Soon they will be counter counter-culture. Be a rebel - use a hankie.


  1. Anonymous12/16/2014

    I will purchase a hankie soon because I am an aspiring rebel! You've really opened my eyes on/in many areas of my life that were on autopilot and therefore unexposed. This area was yet another uncovered affront to my minimalism.
    Your posts really shine a light in these areas that I never have given a thought to for decades! Most of these "unknowns" are things we just learned from people at a young age and did not question while it was getting burnt into our auto-pilot mode. Lately I have been ferreting out these learned thoughtless behaviors that I've gained in my 44 years of life. Some are great but many are not in-line with my morals/character. I strive to be a 100% authentic ME so I need to question my actions and make adjustments to this end. I think this will be on ongoing process throughout my lifetime and I am content with that.
    Recently my nephew aged 3 years old saw me peel a banana. He said " Uncle Artie, why are you peeling your banana from the stem end? That's all wrong!" I said "well, that's how bananas get peeled, Oliver." He then said that chimps and other monkeys peel them from the other end. I tried this method of peeling them from the top and it was much easier! In all my life peeling bananas on a weekly basis I never questioned my peeling technique. Being open to critique from yourself and others is very improvement if we want to improve so I willingly seek it out.

    1. Uncle Artie,

      You have what it takes to be a full time rebel! Using a hanky is a good start, but your attitude is what will ensure your success in this regard.

      Thanks to you and your nephew for reminding me of "how bananas get peeled". Sometimes we learn good things and backslide into auto-pilot mode. I'm peeling like the chimps and monkeys again, proving that everyone we meet, and every encounter we have, is an opportunity for learning and behaviour change.

      If only everyone were on a similar path to self-improvement and reducing the amount of harm done as they pass through life.


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