An ongoing debate of modern life is, which is better, paper towels or hand dryers? Some people prefer paper towels, and others prefer hand dryers. But we all want to help the planet. So a better question might be, which one is more green?
A study done in 2011 by the M.I.T. Materials Systems Laboratory states that hand dryers are much more green than paper towels. The study reports that the carbon footprint from paper towels is 16 grams of CO2 equivalent. The manufacturing carbon footprint is 10 grams, the transportation is 2 grams, and throwing the towel away is 1 gram. Then there’s the effect of removing the trees to make the paper and the packaging. This all adds up to 4 times the weight of the towel itself. Even when recycled paper is used for the paper towels, the carbon footprint is the same.
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The manufacturing of paper towels alone has bad effects on the environment. The process is very energy-intensive. Paper mills also generate poisonous waste products, like dioxins and contaminated waste water. Another problem with paper towels is that they’re not recyclable. Paper towels fill up trash bags, and take up a great deal of space in landfills. It’s estimated that 29% of the garbage in landfills is paper, and that between 700,000 and one million tons of garbage in landfills is paper towels.
Of course, hand dryers also have to be manufactured, and also use resources in the form of electricity. But hand dryers last from 7 to 10 years, so the effect of manufacturing them is spread out over all that time. Hand dryers consume only a small amount of electricity when in use; when one runs for 30 seconds it uses up about .018 kilowatt-hours. There are also new hand dryers that use about 80% less electricity than older models, because they have a much shorter drying time. Environmental Resources Management reports that paper towels use up 64% more electricity than hand dryers over 5 years.
However, paper towels have their uses and don’t have to be eliminated. If both hand dryers and paper towels are available, paper towel use can be reduced by about 70%. Disposable items like paper towels can be used for cleaning and sanitizing by individuals and companies such as Home Cleaners.
But hand dryers are the choice for going green, because they use far fewer resources and generate much less waste, giving the earth a big break.