Surviving a Cold with Minimal Waste

Despite all of the cozy sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes, there's something looming that makes this part of the year suck a whole lot. Cold and flu season is upon us and our pockets are full of crumbling tissues, we feel like crap, and our sick days are running low. It's the worst.

If you're one of the lucky ones who get sick every single year, I've got a few tips and home remedies to help avoid some waste that often comes with having a cold.

Before I start, I will say that medication is one of my zero waste non-negotiable items. This means that no matter the waste that comes with it, my health, and my family's health comes first, as should yours. It wasn't until I was pregnant that I really had to rely on home remedies because most cold medication is not an option.

So, you do whatever you need or whatever the doctor prescribes. On that note...

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and none of the following tips are intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease, nor are the products and methods intended to replace proper medical advice or help. Please see my full Terms and Conditions for more info.

Runny nose

Facial tissues, the lovely, disposable items that fall apart at the first sign of moisture. You buy boxes and boxes of them, even spend extra on the fluffy, soft ones that promise relief for your poor little nose.

In 2013, reports showed that Americans went through 255,360,000,000 a year and demand was expected to increase globally by 4% each year for paper tissue use in general [1]. To get to the product we use, there is considerable impact through logging, manufacturing, and transportation.

So, as we all know, disposables are not the answer despite their convenience. We've replaced tissues with the zero waste alternative hankies and haven't turned back. A nice cotton hankie will not fall apart on you and there is minimal chaffing, at least in my experience. I'd say one hankie replaces 5-10 tissues before it should be tossed in the wash. You can use a wet bag (like the one pictured below) or even a plastic baggie to keep dirty ones in to minimize germs around your house or on the go.

Generations before us used them, and there's nothing strange about them. When I'm not using them to blow my nose, I still keep them on hand for an on-the-go napkin, if they are clean of course.

To wash them, I just throw them in with other towels and run the wash on hot with an oxygen bleach detergent. You can either line dry or use your dryer as normal. That's it, super simple.

If you still find that your nose is chaffed and sore after using your hankie, coconut oil is a great way to relieve some of that.

Sore throat

A scratchy, irritated, or sore throat is obviously no fun. I find throat sprays to be super gross and they don't always seem to work for me.

I'm sure everyone has heard of this remedy and have likely tried it, but you can't go wrong with gargling warm salt water. If you're wondering if it really works, Sorana Segal-Maurer, MD and Brian P. Currie, MD, MPH discuss that here.

Another thing I find helpful is a swallowing a spoonful of honey. Honey soothes your throat and can act as a cough suppressant. This literature review shows that the flavonoids and phenolic compounds found in honey give it its antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Important note: Never give honey to an infant under 12 months of age.

Congestion and coughing

Not being able to breathe and coughing uncontrollably is my least favorite part of having a cold. Getting all of that mucus out is key to feeling better and to easing an unforgiving cough.

Lot's of warm liquids (sans caffeinated drinks) can help loosen everything up and keep you hydrated. Hot water with lemon juice, honey, and a bit of ginger helps me with easing congestion and a nasty cough.

I normally just add the ingredients to my liking but the measurements are something like this...
  • 1 cup of hot water
  • Juice from half of a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • A dash of ground ginger (or freshly grated)
Lemons contain Vitamin C and, like honey, also contain flavonoids [2]. Ginger is a diaphoretic, meaning it helps to warm your body from within. It also reduces inflammation [3].

Peppermint tea is a great way to ease congestion or at least help you breathe a little easier as it contains menthol. It also has antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral properties [4].

Green tea's antioxidant properties help to strengthen your immune system [5]. It does contain caffeine, so probably best not to drink too much throughout the day, especially before bedtime.

Chamomile tea with lemon is helpful right before bedtime to help you sleep but is not recommended for pregnant women.

If you don't already have these teas in stock, try buying them in loose-leaf form to avoid disposable tea bags. I use a stainless steel tea infuser that works great!

Feeling more adventurous? Try adding apple cider vinegar, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, and/or cayenne pepper to your tea or to some hot water. I think apple cider vinegar tastes better in green tea. These ingredients seem unorthodox but they have certain properties that will help you to fight your cold.
  • Apple cider vinegar: Immune boosting, antioxidant, and helps to loosen mucus [6]
  • Garlic: Immune boosting, antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory [7]
  • Cinnamon: Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant [8]
  • Turmeric: Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant [9]
  • Cayenne pepper: Pain and congestion relief [10]
Important note: Colds are caused by viruses and anything antibacterial won't kill the virus or cure your cold. I've simply listed some of the known health benefits of these ingredients.

Adding moisture to the air is also a way to loosen up some of that stubborn congestion. A humidifier works well for that purpose. Just be sure to change the water out every day and follow manufacturer instructions for use. 

If you don't have a humidifier, a steamy shower can help. I like to add just a few drops of eucalyptus, tea tree oil, and/or peppermint essential oil* to the corner of the shower or in a little cup. The steam carries the oils up and helps open up those sinuses. Be careful not to add too much as these oils can be irritating. 

*I am not a chemist and do not feel it is my place to publish recipes with essential oils. I use them sparingly in cleaning (and in this instance) and recommend you do your due diligence before using them. While I find they are helpful in some instances, they are not a cure for any ailment.

All in all, there's no silver bullet but hopefully I've provided some lead bullets to help fight that cold of yours and some to avoid as much waste as possible. Remember, you do what you need to do!


[1] Poppenheimer, Linda. “Paper Facial Tissue – History and Environmental Impact.” Green Groundswell, 19 Dec. 2018, < environmental-impact/2013/12/05/.>

[2] Mohanapriya, M, et al. “Health and Medicinal Properties of Lemon (Citrus Limonum).” International Journal Of Ayurvedic And Herbal Medicine, 2013, < i1/8%20ijahm.pdf>

[3] Ware, Megan. "Why is ginger good for you?." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 11 Sep. 2017. Web. 6 Nov. 2019. <>

[4] Groves, Melissa. "12 Science-Backed Benefits of Peppermint Tea and Extracts" Healthline. 12 Oct. 2018. Web. 6 Nov. 2019<>

[5] Chacko, Sabu M et al. “Beneficial effects of green tea: a literature review.” Chinese medicine
vol. 5 13. 6 Apr. 2010, doi:10.1186/1749-8546-5-13

[6] Watson, Kathryn. "Apple Cider Vinegar for Colds" Healthline. 22, Jan. 2018. Web. 6 Nov. 2019. <>

[7] Jeffers, Laura. "6 Surprising Ways Garlic Boosts your Health" Cleveland Clinic. 23 Feb. 2015. Web. 6 Nov. 2019. < health/>

[8] Rao, Pasupuleti Visweswara, and Siew Hua Gan. “Cinnamon: a multifaceted medicinal plant.” Evidence- based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM vol. 2014 (2014): 642942. doi:10.1155/2014/642942

[9] Bedosky, Lauren. "12 Scientific Health Benefits of Turmeric and Curcumin" Everyday Health. 16 Sep. 2019. Web. 6 Nov. 2019. < health-benefits-turmeric-curcumin/>

[10] Ware, Megan. "The health benefits of cayenne pepper." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 3 Jan. 2018. Web.6 Nov. 2019. <>


Popular Posts