There’s no way to say that without sounding disgusting. Have a green virus? Suffer sickness in a green way? Gross.
What I mean is, you can go ahead and have your summer cold and flu without damaging the environment. I just recovered from my de rigueur annual summer cold and it was no fun, but guess how many redwood trees or whales or monarch butterflies were harmed in the process? None. I came through this tedious summer malady with my eco-credentials intact.
We don’t use Kleenex in this house; we use handkerchiefs. As it happens, my mother-in-law thinks the ideal gift for Mr. Husband is a new package of white handkerchiefs for every Christmas. That’s 50-some packages of hankies, my friends. He was giving them away to Goodwill for a while, but I made him stop. We can use those, I said, instead of endless boxes of tissues.
I found a pretty box designed for storing photos, etc, and it has a nice piece of elastic around it to keep it closed. All the laundered hankies go in there until someone has a cold. Then the box comes out, and a laundry basket goes near the user, and it’s really no different than using up a couple of boxes of tissues. And it’s much gentler on the nose.
How yucky is it to wash handkerchiefs? Not at all. You wash sheets and towels, don’t you? Throw the hankies in with the sheets and towels, or any other load of whites. Wash them in hot water and dry them on the line or in the dryer. Heat and light will help kill germs (note: this won’t kill every germ — you’ll have to turn your water heater up to 180 degrees and add some bleach for that — not so good for the planet). Used hankies are no more disgusting than a dirty towel or baby burp cloths. And since I just fold and put them back in the box, it’s not like there’s a lot of extra work involved, O Lazy Ones. A handful of handkerchiefs will not overload the laundry, I promise. (And why so squeamish about your own body, anyway? Might want to take a look at that; I’m just saying…)
BTW, I don’t iron handkerchiefs because it’s important that they stay soft and absorbent. (I do iron my pretty little lady hankies that I take to weddings and movies for gentle weeping, but those are not sturdy enough for a head-cold.)
If you don’t have access to a washer or have some other reason that you can’t use handkerchiefs, at least purchase recycled paper tissues (Full Circle, Seventh Generation, Green Forest are some brands you may recognize). And then dispose of these in the garbage, not the recycling bin. I also recommend against composting used tissues of any sort – home compost piles don’t get near hot enough to kill germs like this, and you don’t want viruses hanging around in the soil. No, you do not. (Note: the link is to a blogger who won’t carry a hankie when he’s ill, so check him out and see the other side of the argument.)
Antibiotics: Just say no
The other major way you can impact the planet for good when you have a cold or flu is this: Do not ask for or take antibiotics. Antibioticsare not for viruses. They are for bacterial infections only. Sinus infection? Yes. Bad cold? No. Go to the doctor if you need clarification, but over prescription of antibiotics is a global disaster in the making. You make yourself resistant to antibiotics by using them when you don’t need them. Then you will need stronger drugs, and you might be out of luck when that time comes. Or you might find yourself with a flesh-eating bacteria or lots worse. So say no to the drugs unless it’s absolutely vital for fighting a bacterial infection. And your summer cold is not that.
How else can you take care of the planet when you’re taking care of you? Stay home and don’t spread your germs around. Wash your hands frequently with plain old soap and warm water. (Stay away from antibacterial soaps for the same reason to avoid antibiotics.) Rest and catch up on reading. Snuggle with your pets, who never get enough cuddle time. Listen to some of your vast music collection. Take naps. Ask someone to make you some soup (any clear broth-based soup is good for you.) Use old-fashioned remedies like steam, hot tea, lemons and honey, to help you get well.
It’s boring to be ill in fine weather, and vexing to have to miss a barbecue or a parade (I missed the entire Fourth of July holiday, boo!). Give yourself the week to be ill. And pat yourself on the back for making a baby eco-step while you’re at it.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward.
Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others.
Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.
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