How To Have a Low Waste Sick Season

With cold and flu season upon us, it's important to focus on something we normally forget about: Waste. Being sick produces a lot of waste, from tissues to throat drop wrappers. All of this waste heads directly to a landfill where it will sit for decades. Here are three ways to have a low waste sick season without hurting the environment. 

Choose more sustainable tissue options 

I’m not sure about you, but whenever I’m sick, I go through a lot of tissues. Bags full of them. If you think about it, that’s a lot of waste heading straight to the landfill, considering tissues are single use. Not to mention, most tissues are made from trees. Did you know at least 17 trees will have to be cut down and 20,000 gallons of water is contaminated in order to produce a ton of tissue paper? Considering how quickly we go through them (and only use them for 3 seconds), that’s a lot of waste. 

Here are some more sustainable options: 

  • Tree-free tissues: You can find tree-free, forest-friendly tissues made from 100 percent bamboo.  Bamboo is a fast-growing plant so it’s extremely renewable. The tissues are also 100 percent biodegradable, so they’ll break down over time.  
  • Handkerchiefs: Perhaps the most sustainable option is to skip on disposables altogether. Handkerchiefs are reusable, and you can find them at thrift stores or make your own. You can cut up an old, soft shirt and use it as a handkerchief. Just be sure to hand or machine wash it when you’re done

Make DIY cough drops 

Whenever my throat feels sore, I’m the first to reach for a cough drop. While I do prefer more natural cough drop brands, I’ll be the first to admit how wasteful they can get. In just one day, I can go through half a pack of cough drops, and that means a lot of wasted wrappers destined for the landfill. Not to mention most cough drops come in plastic bags which are also hard to recycle. 

Instead, why not try making your own DIY cough drops? It’s fairly simple to do, but does require some patience (and a candy thermometer).  

DIY Herbal Honey Cough Drops 


  • 1 Tablespoon peppermint tea 
  • 1 Tablespoon chamomile tea 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger 
  • 3/4 cup boiling water 
  • 3/4 cup honey 


  1. Steep the peppermint, chamomile, and ginger in boiling water for 10 minutes or more. Strain the water and pour into a small saucepan.
  2. Add the honey, then heat over medium heat until mixture begins to boil. Clip the candy thermometer to the side of your pan and continue boiling until the mixture reaches 300 degrees F, then remove from heat.  
  3. Let the mixture cool for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it starts to get syrupy in consistency. Drop by small spoonfuls onto parchment paper and let it cool.
  4. Dust with a little cornstarch to absorb condensation and prevent them from sticking together in storage. Store in an airtight container and use whenever your throat starts to bother you. To take some of these DIY cough drops to go, store them in a small metal tin or small glass jar. The idea is to keep waste to an absolute minimum, so don’t go wrapping them up in paper!  

Opt for holistic remedies 

While sick, we all hate the symptoms that come with it. Be it a runny nose, an upset stomach, or a scratchy throat, sickness is never fun to deal with. Unfortunately, many of the medications we take to alleviate our symptoms are full of questionable ingredients and packaged in plastic. To reduce waste, and only put healthy ingredients in your body, opt for holistic, natural remedies instead. 

For an all-around immune booster, I recommend making some fire cider or elderberry syrup. Fire cider isn’t for everyone (it’s rather potent and smelly), but it really gets the job done in regards to warding off colds, flus, and viruses. It can also shorten the length of time you do get sick. Elderberry syrup is much sweeter and perfect for children. Elderberries are loaded with health benefits which make them perfect for protecting one’s immune system.  

Personally, whenever I get sick I drink a ton of tea and eat a lot of soup. I recommend going for tea brands that make compostable tea bags: Lots of tea bags are made from plastic and won’t biodegrade! And make sure the container the bags come is in recyclable or compostable. Avoiding tea brands that use plastic is important for the environment, but also your health: When you steep the plastic tea bags in hot water, a bunch of toxins are released into your drink.  Yuck. Is that really what you want to be putting into your body while sick? 

If you decide to eat soup while sick, nothing beats homemade. I love making a nice vegetable soup or chicken soup from scratch, if I’m feeling up to it. Alternatively, you can also get soup in a can premade. I recommend purchasing organic soup in a BPA-free can. Make sure to recycle the can when you’re done (and clean out any soup remnants).  


Here are some other holistic ways to ward off sickness: 

Following these simple tips will dramatically help you reduce your waste during sick season. While I’d never wish anyone ill, I do hope this inspires you to think consciously about the environment, even when you’re not feeling up to snuff!