• Jenica

Zero Waste Cold Remedies

When I got my first cold during my zerowaste journey, my whole system fell apart. Colds are hard to handle as is and when you can’t use any one-use items? Everywhere I turned I saw potential trash! There are so many temptations that I could have easily just picked up and immediately felt relief from my sore throat and runny nose. So, after I had recovered enough to function again, I began searching for some alternatives for my “cold fighting kit”.


My first endeavor turned out to be a rather easy one. I had grown up my whole life using disposable Kleenexes to fight every running nose but, obviously, that wasn’t going to fly anymore. I came up with several options that work quite well:

  • Handkerchiefs: Any 100% cotton fabric can easily be turned into a homemade hanky. Additionally, a trip to your local thrift shop can easily turn up nice handkerchiefs as well.

  • HankyBook: If you hate the idea of opening up your handkerchief to find old boogers or accidentally touching some when you reach in your pocket, HankyBooks are a great alternative! I discovered these around Christmas and LOVE them. It’s basically a small “book” of handkerchiefs. You use each page once and then move on to the next one. There is no mess because the pages stick together once used so it opens right up to a clean one! Once it’s full or you just feel like starting fresh, it can be popped into the wash! If you are trying to last out a cold only on these, I would recommend four books to make it through.

  • Old Laundry: I know it sounds gross but laundry waiting to be washed is just asking to be used to blow your nose. This option isn’t really portable as some people might stare if you blow your nose into a cotton tank-top; but for at home, this is very easy and very practical.


There are a variety of ways to keep drinking tea during the cold months without filling up your trash can:

  • Loose Leaf Tea: Loose leaf tea can be purchased locally at the Bellingham Food Coop or online from a variety of producers. In order to drink it, you will need a tea ball (such as this one) or a strainer cup (such as this one).

  • Compostable Tea Bags: Flying Bird Botanicals brand sells tea in compostable bags. They can be purchased at the Bellingham Food Coop or online here. My favorite is the CedarWood Chai flavor!

  • Homemade: You can easily make different teas at home. My go-to tea when I am sick is just lime/lemon juice and honey together. It is wonderful for easing a sore throat.

Cough Drops/Syrup

Now this one was a lot harder for me. Unless you make cough drops at home, I can’t seem to find a brand that uses recyclable/compostable packaging (ergo, more trash). Many cough suppressant bottles however can be recycled. If you don’t feel like making your own, just make sure to properly recycle the bottle. But fair warning, the chemicals in those things aren’t fantastic and aren’t as effective as simple honey (read the study here).

  • DIY Cough Drops: try out my favorite recipe here! I've laid out how to make them (and the tricks of heating up honey to such high temperatures!)

  • Vicks Vapo Rub: try out my recipe and make your own! My mother swears this stuff is better than the original! It also doesn't leave my chest red with a rash from the chemicals.

  • DIY Cough Syrup: Bea Johnson, the creator of the Zero Waste Home website and book, lists the following recipe as a DIY cough suppressant syrup. Although neither I nor she has tried it, it’s worth a shot!

  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1 T honey, 1 T apple cider vinegar, 2 T water mixed in small sterilized jar.

Sinus Relief

Our sinuses often feel like they're housing an impending bomb when we're sick and the pressure can cause horrible headaches. It's also nearly impossible to sleep when your nostrils are so stuffed up you can't even swallow.

  • Neti Pots: Although a Neti Pot won’t wipe up the snot you already have rolling down your face, it will help clear out your sinuses and help prevent more build up. I highly recommend you do it whenever you have the chance – especially right before bed and right when you get up! Remember not to do it with cold water though; otherwise it feels like you’ve snorted up pool water!

  • Vaporizers: A little bit of hot steam can often do the trick! This helps relax and calm the tissues in our sinuses and reduce the inflammation. You can create a homemade vaporizer by putting hot water in a pot and covering it and your head with a towl. For added effect, add a few drops of peppermint and eucalyptus essential oil. A hot bath also works great


When it comes down to specific medications you may be required to take when you’re sick, you will ultimately have to make that decision. If you are in need of some pain relief, antibiotics, etc., ponder these questions first before you decide:

  • Is there an option available in a recyclable container? Check bottles to see if they can be recycled in your area. And if available, always choose glass bottles over plastic ones.

  • Have I researched alternative options? I would have never known about DIY cough syrup unless I had googled it. You never know what research is out there that might support a natural method! Obviously, if it is a serious condition, natural methods may not have the potency to control it completely. Taking the medicine prescribed, even if it produces trash, is better than a life threatening illness.

  • Will this really help me? Many of us are attached to rituals when it comes to being sick. We crave soup because our mother’s fed it to us and we sigh in relief when we smell Vicks. But take a moment to consider whether what you are about to ingest, breathe, or swallow is actually beneficial to you. I, for example, have always used Ricolla Cough Drops for my sore throats. When I was last sick, however, I paid attention to how much relief it actually provided. Unless I had a cough drop in my mouth, the soothing effect was immediately gone! The cough drops were not more effective than drinking a sip of tea or taking a spoonful of honey. So take a good look and make sure that the medicines you are taking for your cold ACTUALLY WORK. If not? Then maybe taking a chance on a more natural option might not come with any risk at all!

Other than that? I don’t use much else when I’m sick. A long bath or hot shower always helps. Nice company is a plus. A good book helps to pass the time. For the sake of everyone reading this, I hope you never get sick! But realistically…you should book mark this page for when the cold sets in.

#sickness #medicine #DIY #bathroom

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