Handkerchief vs Tissue: The Ultimate Eco-Impact Guide

The desire to reduce one's footprint is a driving reason for many when switching from tissues to handkerchiefs. It will come as no surprise that making the switch will reduce one's impact – the question is, by how much? 

We've broken it down into four major categories:

  1. Carbon Emissions
  2. Waste
  3. Pollution
  4. Environmental Degradation


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Carbon Emissions




The production of facial tissues, napkins, and paper towels accounts for roughly 1/1500 of the world's greenhouse gas emissions

The paper industry is responsible for 1.4% of global GHG emissions.

According to the EPA, tissue paper (toilet paper, facial tissues, paper towels, napkins) makes up about 10% of the paper industry.

Making the tissue market = 0.14% of global GHG emissions

Approximately 50% of the tissue market consists of facial tissue, napkin, and paper towels, with the other half being toilet paper.

Facial tissue, napkin, and paper towel production = 0.07% of global GHG emissions

1/0.0007 = ~ 1500 = 1/1500 of global GHG emissions


While that may not sound like a lot, when you look at the total carbon emissions of the world, the number is actually quite high. 

Global GHG emissions = 50 billion metric tons. 

This means that the production of facial tissues, napkins, and paper towels emits around 33 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. 

With the important part being, "each year"  as these are reoccurring emissions, continually given off due to the single-use nature of the products. 


Vala Alta Handkerchiefs

From the start, we have focused on creating the lowest impact handkerchiefs possible. 

To do this, we have specifically sought out Irish Linen as our base material for its eco-friendly properties. 

Linen, while making up less than 1% of all textile fibers, is a much cleaner fabric than popular alternatives. 

So much so, that in a study seeking to assess the environmental impact of all textile fibers, flax (the natural fiber used to weave linen) ranked the lowest for: 

  • Damage to ecosystem quality
  • Damage to resources
  • Damage to human health
  • Energy use per kilogram of fiber produced


On top of that, all of the flax used for our handkerchiefs comes from European Flax certified farms  meaning, among other things, the cultivation process is carbon-negative (removes more carbon from the air than is emitted).

Additionally, the Irish Linen industry, as well as our U.S. manufacturers, are conscious of reducing their energy consumption. 

On the other hand, handkerchiefs do come with the added energy expense of needing to be washed following their use. Thankfully, they are small and lightweight and can fit into any load of laundry. Additionally, linen dries rapidly so we recommend air drying your handkerchiefs to reduce your impact even more. 





According to the EPA, paper and paperboard products makes up the largest share of U.S. waste, at 23.1% of total generation  and this does not include the industrial waste created from the tissue making process.

Facial tissues and paper towels alone, make up 7.6 billion pounds of U.S. waste each year

This is the equivalent of nearly 100,000 average U.S. homes in wood each year. 


Vala Alta Handkerchiefs

Another component of European Flax is that the crop is 100% zero-waste. This is possible because when the flax is harvested the plant is not cut, but mechanically pulled from the root  maintaining the full length of the fiber. The longest and strongest fibers then go on to textile use and the left over seeds, oil, and fiber are used to make items such as soaps, cattle feed, insulation and more. 

This philosophy continues throughout the making of our handkerchiefs. For example, their square design makes the process of cutting the linen fabric highly efficient – creating minimal textile waste.

And of course, handkerchiefs are a true zero-waste product. One is able to reuse them time and time again, and with the durability of Irish Linen, our handkerchiefs last a long time, unlike cotton equivalents. 



Pollution is a broad term, but what we mean is the quality of the waste, rather than the carbon emissions portion or the shear quantity of waste as mentioned above, to get an understanding of the toxic pollutants that are released along the way.



The harsh environmental impact of the paper industry has long been known.


"Pulp and paper industry is one of the most polluting, energy and water intensive industries in the world." 


The transformation from tree to tissue is a chemically-intensive process that creates a number of pollutants including:

  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Sulfur compounds 
  • Chlorinated compounds 
  • Dioxins
  • Heavy metals 


Paper production is particularly impactful on waterways, and hence producers often have stringent pollution standards enforced on them. Even still, in 2015, pulp and paper ranked first in the U.S. for the amount of toxic weighted equivalents discharged to water by industry.


Tissue Paper Mill Pollution


Weyerhauser Paper Mill located on the Columbia River (2012) – via the EPA photo library.

"Intense industrial concentration causes visible pollution."


Vala Alta Handkerchiefs

Make no mistake, the textile industry does not have a great history when it comes to pollution either. 

Pollutants common by the clothing industry also include sulfides and chlorinated compounds, as well as various VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and are mostly resultant of the dyeing and bleaching processes.

Thankfully, all of these processes are performed by our European-based linen weavers, and are highly regulated and REACH compliant. REACH is the European Union's regulation on chemicals and is the strictest law to date governing chemical substances in the world.


Reach Compliance


Environmental Degradation 



The main obstacle for tissues in regard to environmental degradation is that most are made from virgin-fiber (fresh cut trees), as they produce the softest and most absorbent tissues. 

This means, to supply the tissue industry, approximately 27,000 trees are cut down each day. 

We believe that this is an inefficient use of valuable forestry resources; that tissues, paper towels, and other short-lived paper products are instead great candidates for recycled fibers. 

The EPA has determined that recycled paper releases 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution than virgin paper. Therefore, sourcing from recycled fibers would not only significantly reduce the environmental degradation, but the waste and pollution produced from the tissue industry. 


Vala Alta Handkerchiefs

For those interested in eliminating these products as much as possible, handkerchiefs are a great alternative. 

The flax that is grown for our handkerchiefs causes virtually no environmental degradation. In fact, flax is a restorative crop

European Flax is grown by artisanal farmers, many of whom have been growing on the same land for over a century. These farmers have a tremendous understanding and respect for the land that they grow on. 


Flax Field
Picture Credit Photo Credit License Changes Made



In short, it does not come as a surprise that the use of handkerchiefs in place of single-use tissues is a more eco-friendly alternative, however, the magnitude of the difference may come as a surprise.

One can reduce their impact quite significantly across a number of environmental categories by switching to Vala Alta handkerchiefs

We are highly conscious of all the environmental impacts (not just carbon emissions) that occur throughout the journey from flax plant to handkerchief.

You can rest assured that we are taking every step to further reduce our impact, and that we will continue to make the most eco-friendly handkerchiefs possible.