Editor’s note: No, not paper or plastic… we’ve been there. David Shaw takes a look at the environmental impact of hand-washing, and finds there’s a better way… even better than “Press button. Rub hands under warm air. Wipe hands on pants.” David originally published this post to Professor Simran Sethi’s Media and the Environment course blog on Wednesday, March 5, 2008.
I drink at least a liter of water a day, which means I end up using the restroom at least five times a day. In the bathroom at work, we have the fairly standard stack of single sheet paper towels that you pull from the holder one at a time (although sometimes a clump comes out, if they’re packed too tightly). It takes two paper towels to dry my hands thoroughly.
So, on a daily basis I use at least 10 paper towels, or 50 paper towels a week, or 200 paper towels a month, or 2,400 paper towels a year! That is a lot of paper. But, I have to wash my hands and I have to dry them. Yet, every time I grab the paper towels, I feel a tinge of guilt. So, I started trying to find ways to conserve paper towels.
First, I decided to cut down to just one paper towel. Yeah, my hands were still a little damp when I left the restroom, but they air dried within a minute or two. Still, with one paper towel per hand washing, I was using at least 1,200 paper towels a year. Not good enough.
Hand Towels… The Greenest Option
This has been bugging me for a while. Finally, one day I had an epiphany. If I were to use one of those quick drying microfiber towels that hikers and campers use, I could just keep that in my pocket and use it to dry my hands anywhere I go. AND they are made with some sort of anti-microbial/germ fighting thing that helps prevent them from getting getting germy and stinky.
I know that it takes more resources and energy to make one quick-dry towel than it takes to make one paper towel, but I’m not so sure the same holds true vs. 2,400 paper towels – especially when you consider the paper towels are virgin paper. My guess is I can get at least a couple years use out of the microfiber towel. Weighing that against nearly 5,000 paper towels I might use over two years, and it’s a no-brainer — microfiber towel wins!
So, I am going to start pushing a new mantra that’s similar to the bring your own shopping bag slogan that is starting to catch on. Bring your own hand towel. If you are wondering whether using a paper towel or a hot air hand dryer is the better choice, the best choice is neither — bring your own hand towel!
I was at a sporting goods store with my wife’s parents over the weekend and I found a small microfiber hand towel that even comes in its own cute little nylon pouch. I bought one as a gift for my wife’s birthday in May and I asked her to get me one for mine, which is later this month.
I will reduce my carbon footprint even more with this little towel. And I’ll save some trees, too!