Paper towels vs hand dryers

Posted on

April 18, 2016

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The case for choosing paper towels over hand dryers is hard to make on both environmental and cleanliness grounds.



There is a wealth of data now that underlines the negative impact of power towels on the environment. For example, it takes 17 trees to produce a tonne of towels.

Then factor in the need for the waste paper to be disposed of in landfill or by burning. It is often not possible to recycle paper towels, particularly those made with recycled paper.

Research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that recycled paper towels actually have the same negative impact on the environment as virgin paper towels, including water consumption and carbon emissions.

It also revealed that installing a hand dryer would save 24 trees that would otherwise be turned into paper towels over its lifetime.

You also have to calculate the effects of producing towel dispensers, waste bins and bin liners as well as emissions from road transport, bearing in mind the continual need for fresh supplies.

The MIT study concluded that paper towels – and warm-air dryers – generate 70% more carbon emissions than quality cold-air hand dryers.

Hygiene debate

The arguments over whether hand dryers are less hygienic than paper towels have been going on for years. While it might have been reasonable to argue that the paper option was better than warm-air dryers, there is ample evidence supporting the efficacy of quality cold-air dryers.

However, from time to time stories surface in the media about the inefficiency of cold-air dryers compared to paper towels when measuring bacterial removal and spread.

Unfortunately, many of the studies underlying the stories are funded by the paper sector and also suffer from small sample sizes and questionable methodology.

One of the companies in the firing line is Dyson, which has rebutted several articles over the past few years that seek to compare hygiene results between paper towels and hand dryers.

Recent UK studies about the spread of bacteria through Dyson hand dryers have been robustly answered by the company.

It advises that its dryers are “as hygienic” as paper towels and points to the fact that the Royal Society for Public Health endorsed Dyson hand dryers after exhaustive tests and the company carries the RSPH hygiene kitemark.

The company has also produced a pretty comprehensive response in this video, which is well worth watching:

Find out more about our range of hand dryers that cut costs and reduce waste:



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