Many establishments have strived to be more “green” by replacing paper towels with hand dryers, but the solution is still a problem.
A fair amount of energy goes into manufacturing metal goods with mechanical parts. Although, as hand dryers last an average of eight or nine years, this amount of energy is insignificant in comparison to the dryer’s total energy consumption. The majority of a dryer’s carbon footprint is a result of the electricity it requires.
A typical warm-air dryer uses around 2,200 watts of power when switched on, plus about two watts while in standby mode. If someone dried their hands for 30 seconds, then they’d use about 0.018 kilowatt-hours of electricity. If that was done three times a day for a full year, one person would use up 19.71 kWh of electricity, which translates into roughly 26.61 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.
The amount of electricity used ranges depending on the hand dryer. The highest-end dryers, such as the XLerator and the Dyson Airblade, claim to be at least 80 percent more efficient than their forerunners. This is mostly due to the shorter amount of time it runs, which means it is likely to be used repeatedly. In the grand scheme of things, most hand dryers average around the same amount of electricity.
In the world of paper towels, electricity doesn’t come into play. This method of drying off hands tallies up carbon emissions in a much different way. The process create the paper from trees requires heavy machinery and log transport, both of which utilize fossil fuels. The pulping process can be a dangerous pollutant to nearby water sources. Also, paper towels are almost always not recycled, and end up in the trash steam after only one use.
If composed of recycled material, paper towels would be considerably less harmful to the environment. According to the EPA, the production of recycled paper requires 40 percent less energy than the normal paper towel. However, recycled paper towels aren’t the exception and cannot be reused.
When the Climate Conservancy studied this issue, they came up with a figure of about 0.123 pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions per paper-towel “session,” using the standard of two paper towels per user. They found the range for hand dryers was between 0.02 pounds and 0.088 pounds, depending on wattage and drying time, which is clearly less than paper towels.
While hand dryers may be the “greener” option, anyone who truly supports the environment should keep in mind that neither is the best option. Perhaps the solution is drying off hands on clothing, if one can handle being a bit damp.
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