Hand Dryers Vs. Paper Towels: Which Has A Larger Environmental Impact?
In many places around your home, community, and country, there’s a good chance that people are switching from paper towels to hand dryers in workplaces, schools, restaurants, and public restrooms. But which one is really better for the environment? What factors do we have to consider to find out? I myself have asked these questions. Here are some of the things to take into account when comparing the two options.
Hand/ Blow Dryers
Some factors to consider with hand dryers are their source of energy or electricity, the type of air they produce, and the design. Renewable energy, like solar power, will contribute less of an impact, whereas fossil fuels have a greater impact. According to Livestrong, an average dryer uses 0.018 kilowatt hours of electricity for 30 seconds, or around 2,200 watts of power total to run. This means that for one day, approximately 26.61 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions for drying three times.
Some factors to consider with paper towels are the material they are composed of and where they go after use. Most go to the landfill, where methane, a greenhouse gas, is produced during decomposition. Adding to that waste are the trash can liners, which are also put into the landfill after they are filled and then replaced again. The process of converting the trees into paper towels and transportation consumes a lot more fossil fuels, while hand dryers only need replacing close to after 10 years of use. But during the energy-intensive process to create the paper towels, harmful pollutants can be emitted into close water sources. Along with that, recycled paper towels can decrease energy use by up to 40 percent, according to an EPA estimate.
Paper Towels and Warm-air Dryers
A research paper written by the Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed a comparison between seven of the most common ways to dry your hands. They found that warm air hand dryers and paper towels generate 70% more carbon emissions than the newest technology available, according to The Guardian. The MIT scientists looked at the whole process: manufacturing, transportation, dispensing, materials, and disposal. Along with warm air dryers and hand dryers, the researchers also considered recycled paper towels, which consumers thought most eco-friendly. It was found that their environmental impact is very close to regular paper towels. Both consume more energy, water, and create waste compared to the most efficient hand dryers. In fact, in the US, 2% of total landfill consists of paper towels. Warm air dryers have the largest impact during use. Compared to an airblade hand dryer, a warm air dryer is up to 80% less efficient.
The best option at the moment for lowest environmental impact is to use new, high-speed hand dryers, which use cool air and are more efficient than older models. The Slate tells us that hand dryers are the greener choice in about 95 percent of circumstances.The Climate Conservancy reports that for each use, hand dryers cause between 9 and 40 grams of carbon dioxide emissions, whereas paper towels have an average of 56 grams of carbon dioxide emissions. Once all of this information is taken into account, efficient hand dryers are the best alternative (if you don’t want to wipe your hands on your pants). So, the next time you walk into the bathroom, consider the ecological consequences of drying your hands.