Paper Facial Tissue – Green Alternatives

Person Contemplating a Beautiful Green ForestAmericans could save 385,000 trees if each of us were willing to swap just 1 box of facial tissues made from virgin paper to recycled paper fiber. 1 Imagine how many forests we could save by always blowing our noses with recycled paper tissues, treeless tissues, or cloth handkerchiefs.

A previous post delved into the history of paper facial tissue and its environmental impact. In this post, we will evaluate green alternatives to facial tissue made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

I decided to experiment with facial tissues and cloth handkerchiefs. As a person with chronic post nasal drip or just a low tolerance for nasal dampness, I feel I am a qualified tester. My family will say I am picky. I like to think of myself as discerning.

Facial Tissue Experiment

My habit is to stuff slightly used facial tissues in my pocket or purse and reuse them several times if possible. Our household goes through an upright box of facial tissues every 2 weeks or so.

Our small town grocery market has a limited selection of facial tissue so I picked up a few boxes while visiting my sister and niece and on a trip to the “big city.” The 8 brands tested do not constitute an exhaustive study but will give you an idea of what is available.

The facial tissues tested (in random order) were: Kirkland Signature, Natural Value, Puffs Basic, Seventh Generation, Up & Up, Kleenex Expressions, Green2, and Softly. All tissues were white, 2-ply, unscented, came in a recycled paper box (except Green2 which contains no wood), and were deemed adequately absorbent. For the full results click Author’s Facial Tissue Comparison 2013-12-05.

8 Boxes of Facial Tissues for Author's Facial Tissue Experiment

Facial tissue material, softness, price, country of origin, and certifications were evaluated. To keep things simple each brand received a grade from 1 to 3 (high to low) in three categories: softness, environment, and price.

Test Findings
  • Tissues made from virgin paper pulp scored highest on the softness test, but not all brands scored high.
  • Natural Value was the only brand to bear the Totally Chlorine Free seal of the Chlorine Free Products Association.
  • Green2 was the only treeless tissue. It’s made from bagasse, a byproduct of sugar cane production, and bamboo grass, both of which are rapidly renewable.
  • Three brands made from virgin paper pulp (Up & Up, Softly, and Kleenex) carried the FSC Mixed label meaning they meet Forest Stewardship Council requirements for sourcing a portion of their wood from sustainably managed forests and other wood meets specific social and environmental conditions.
  • Softly also carried the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal indicating it meets certain sustainable business practices and its wood complies with FSC requirements.
  • The only product both sourced and made outside the U.S. was Green2 which is made in China.
  • Of the two recycled paper brands, Natural Value was about ½ the price of Seventh Generation and had the same softness.
  • Kleenex Expressions was the most expensive of all brands tested and cost 50% or more than virgin paper pulp brands Kirkland Signature and Up & Up which had equal softness.

Handkerchief Experiment

The handkerchief experiment could not begin until I obtained some cloth handkerchiefs. I walked to one of the local antique stores and purchased 8 pre-owned handkerchiefs of various sizes and fabrics.

Test Findings
  • Author's Collection of 8 Second Hand Cloth HandkerchiefsSome fabrics felt soft in the store but not on my nose.
  • Smaller handkerchiefs were less bulky when folded and stuffed in a pocket or purse (duh).
  • Absorbency varied but was satisfactory for all handkerchiefs.
  • Handkerchiefs tended to “dry out” between uses (unlike facial tissues that just got soggier).
  • One handkerchief lasted all day.


My informal experiments demonstrate there are viable and low-cost alternatives to buying paper facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine.

It is not necessary to pay more for green alternatives.

Even virgin paper pulp facial tissue companies are beginning to focus on the environmental impact and sustainability of their products. Makes sense if your product relies on a constant supply of trees, clean water, and energy.

Cloth Handkerchiefs

I was surprised to find I preferred a cloth handkerchief to any brand of facial tissue for post nasal drip days, but not if I really needed to blow my nose. The small green bordered handkerchief in my collection was the softest and most absorbent.

A possible downside of handkerchiefs is their fabric. Cotton is an extremely water intensive and pesticide-heavy (if not organic) crop and synthetics are often petroleum based.

Pre-owned handkerchiefs that are reused a lot seem the best choice. You never know, you might find some stuffed in the back of a drawer or tucked away in a chest in the attic.

Paper Facial Tissues

Although I like the idea of Green2’s treeless paper, the environmental impact of shipping bulky boxes of facial tissue from China to the U.S. just does not make sense to me.

At about half the price with same softness, I selected Natural Value over Seventh Generation for recycled paper tissues to have around the house.

I admit that when I have a really bad cold, I blow my nose with virgin paper pulp facial tissues. I am still searching for a more eco-friendly brand with equal softness. Out of the 5 virgin paper brands tested, I think the best choice is Up & Up due to its softness, FSC Mix certification, and low price.

Try Your Own Facial Tissue Experiment

Now you are armed with information and some choices for green alternatives to facial tissues made from virgin paper pulp bleached white with chlorine. The next time you shop for facial tissue, look for an eco-friendly brand and try one out. Or skip facial tissues and give hankies a try.

Reader Note: When I mention a specific product in a post, it is because I think you and other readers may find the information useful. I do not accept product review solicitations and I do not receive compensation of any kind for mentioning a product in a post.

Related Posts


  1. Seventh Generation – 100% Recycled Facial Tissue: Did You Know…

Paper Facial Tissue – History and Environmental Impact

Box of Paper Facial Tissues with Pile of Used TissuesCold and flu season seems an appropriate time to investigate our habit of using disposable pieces of paper made from trees to wipe our runny noses.

This first of two posts investigates the history of paper facial tissue and its environmental impact. The second post will examine green alternatives.

Paper Facial Tissue History

Elisabeth de Valois Holding a Handkerchief - Alonso Sánchez Coello, c 1560Early people most likely wiped their noses on the back of their hands, clothing, or both. Some still do.

Using a separate piece of cloth to wipe your nose may have originated during the Roman Empire when people are said to have used linen cloths to wipe their faces and noses. Fast forward to the 16th century when Europeans repurposed the kerchief, a cloth used as a head covering, as a cloth for wiping hands, faces, and noses. Thus the handkerchief was born and is still in use today.

What Does World War I Have to Do with Facial Tissue

Prior to World War I, creped cellulose wadding was developed in Europe as a cotton substitute. Kimberly-Clark brought the idea to the U.S. in 1914 and trademarked the material under the name Cellucotton. During a World War I cotton shortage, Kimberly-Clark convinced the U.S. military to use Cellucotton for surgical dressings and gas mask filters. After the war ended, Kimberly-Clark was faced with finding a new market for their cotton substitute material.

If at First, You Don’t Succeed, Try Again

During the 1920s, Kimberly-Clark developed a smooth, soft tissue paper. The first consumer product created with this material was a feminine sanitary napkin marketed under the name Kotex. Apparently, it was not readily accepted by American women. Perhaps they were embarrassed to be seen buying such an intimate product along with their groceries. Kotex did eventually catch on but in the meantime, Kimberly-Clark needed another product that used tissue paper.

The next venture was a disposable facial tissue for women to wipe off cold cream when they were removing their makeup. It was trademarked Kleenex and launched in 1924.

A Kimberly-Clark researcher with hay fever contributed to Kleenex sales doubling in the 1930s. He used Kleenex tissues instead of cloth handkerchiefs and convinced the marketing team to advertise Kleenex as a way to avoid spreading germs, “the handkerchief you can throw away.” This clever advertising approach elevated Kleenex from being a niche product for women to a universal product that could be used by men, women, and children.

Competition and Product Enhancements

Stack of Paper Facial Tissue BoxesOther companies entered the disposable facial tissue market like Puffs, Scotties, and Angel Soft but the name Kleenex became synonymous with facial tissue.

Over the past seven decades, facial tissue manufacturers have tried a number of product improvements to increase sales and market share such as adding colors, patterns, scents, lotions, and even germ-fighting agents. Other advancements include providing a variety of package sizes, creating designer dispenser boxes, and introducing tissues with recycled paper content.

Paper Facial Tissue Environmental Impact

Americans use upwards of 255,360,000,000 disposable facial tissues a year (yep, billions).1 That’s just in the U.S. The global demand for tissue paper (facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins) is expected to grow 4% every year through 2021 with China accounting for just over 40% of the growth, followed by Latin America (15%), Western Europe (11–12%), and the rest of the world.2

Let’s consider facial tissue for a moment.

Trees: regardless of whether the facial tissue you buy is made from virgin or recycled paper pulp, it is still made from trees, a material that takes years or decades to grow. Logging practices can degrade forests thus contributing to global warming, causing loss of habitat for plants and animals, and polluting waterways.

Manufacturing: paper plants are always located on a body of water. They use copious amounts of water and electricity; emit pollution into the air, and empty effluent into waterways. The environmental footprint of facial tissue is increased when it is bleached white, has something added like lotion, and is packaged in cardboard and plastic.

Transportation: raw materials and finished facial tissue are transported to and from factories via CO2 emitting vehicles that travel across the country and sometimes overseas.

Although the video below is not specific to facial tissue it provides a good overview of what goes on inside a tissue products mill.

All this and for something you use for a few seconds and then throw away.

Are facial tissues really necessary? In the next post, we will explore that question and evaluate green alternatives to facial tissues made with virgin wood pulp and bleached white with chlorine.

Reader Note: Angel Soft, Kleenex, Kotex, Puffs, and Scotties are registered trademarks.

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  1. Calculated based on 2012 facial tissue tonnage (399) from RISI – US Tissue Monthly Data, January 2013 multiplied by 20 (approximate number of facial tissues in one ounce).
  2. Bright Market Insight – Mobilization On a Growing and Increasingly Tough Tissue Market, Summer 2013