J500 Media and the Environment

Paper or Hot Air? by dshawla
March 5, 2008, 1:33 am
Filed under: Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , ,

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.

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 micro-fiber 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 micro-fiber 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!



11 Comments so far
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I think this is a creative idea and a good one! I had never really thought about my personal use of paper towels on a daily basis like that before. When you add up those numbers, you feel pretty guilty, I admit. I love the idea of the microfiber towel..besides saving “virgin” paper towels, you will never be stuck without a towel or dryer again! That’s a major plus in my eyes.

-Sarah Nelson

Comment by snelson33

I should use one of these microfiber towels as a handkerchief for my persistent cold. I haven’t found a suitable material yet; a cut up t shirt or sweatshirt seems like it would get dirty fast.

I think handkerchiefs are looked down upon these days. People think they are gross, I mean I do in a way. But using miles of kleenexes and toilet paper will have a much larger impact.

Bobby Grace

Comment by bobbygrace

It’s the little things that we never remember to conserve: the paper towels, the napkins, the toilet paper. What a great idea to fix something that we so easily forget!


Comment by Lauren Keith

There is also the movement for using your pants. This might not seem like the greatest option for those moments when you are in supernice attire, but for the everyday it eliminates the use of trees, energy, and the purchase of a towel. Plus, it’s harder to forget your pants that a microfiber towel…


Comment by jkongs


Drink less water!

No seriously, I envy the fact that you drink as much as a liter a day. I wish I could get a glass in daily. But your heart’s in the right place about your use of as much virgin paper. I’m not sure if the restroom you use has one of those hot air dryers installed, but even then debate rages as to whether they’re more environmentally friendly than paper towels. I understand different dryers users between 1,400 to 2,500 watts and operate on short cycles that might necessitate you hitting the button several times over to get your hands dry. I know some studies have considered the drying efficiencies of both, but I don’t think there’s any unanimity on which is better. But hats off to your novel approach by considering microfiber towels, a far cry I dare say from those who nonchalantly stride out the restroom without giving a second thought to even washing their hands.


Comment by denzylj


Interesting comments. Responding to a few: I drink lots of water for fear of kidney stones (had them years ago and doctors said, “Drink more water!” so I do). Pants-as-towel is also a good option, however wet pants could imply something else as one is exiting the bathroom. . .

Bobby, I swear that I was just thinking about handkerchiefs this morning. On the one hand, they were kind of filthy. On the other, they were pretty darn green (pun intended). Still, there’s something about a hanky that’s cooler than a kleenex.

Also, since I am new here, I wrote a custom bio for everyone here to get to know more about me. Feel free to check it out. You may get some perspective as to why Simran invited me to join. Also, my avatar is not reflective of what I look like now. It’s just the only photo of myself I had on my work computer. I may update it later, but I kind of dig the little guy in the skipper hat.

– David

Comment by dshawla

A hanky is cooler than a kleenex or a towel. I have several friends who keep one in their back pocket. It can be your towel or your kleenex. If I didn’t dress for work I’d carry around one myself! There are some colorful ones out there. My favorite color would be orange — something festive peeking out of your pocket. -Jen

Comment by jenh

According to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a towel is one of the most important tools in the universe. One shouldn’t go anywhere without it.

In one part of the story, a character has used the corners to soak up sauces for later use as sustenance when he is traveling. He just sucks on the corner of the towel.

It has been a long time since I have read it, and I don’t have a copy to quote directly, but they list a lot more useful things a towel does.

I have one of those microfiber towels. I bring it to school everyday, but unfortunately it is too big for my pocket.

For all the things we should bring with us everywhere we go, (our home made and grown food, a towel, a hanky, water bottle, and I’m sure I’m missing some other stuff..) we are going to look like hikers on an expedition across Africa.


Comment by acbowman

I’ve enjoyed reading your post and the comments. While I’ve been reusing many items for a long time, I’ve been thinking of new things to reduce my use of disposables. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts.

Laura of Harvest Lane

Comment by lauraofharvestlane

[…] even better then “Press button. Rub hands under warm air. Wipe hands on pants.” David originally published this post to the course blog on Wednesday, March 5, […]

Pingback by Paper or Hot Air? Bring Your Own Hand Towel : Sustainablog

[…] hand washing, microfiber, microfibre, paper, reuse, towel — davidashaw @ 6:27 pm NOTE:  I originally published this post to University of Kansas Professor Simran Sethi’s Media and the Environment course blog […]

Pingback by Paper or Hot Air? « Livingreen Blog

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