By Richard Romano on December 14th, 2011
Mr. Tree over at Dead Tree Editions raises a point that I occasionally ponder whenever I am forced to travel (right after “Why can’t we just Skype?”): are public rest room electric hand dryers any more environmentally friendly than paper towels?
As with the “are digital media greener than print?” question, it’s a complicated issue that depends upon a lot of different factors, such as the efficiency of the dryer, the source of the electricity that powers it, and, on the other side, all the myriad factors that go into making the paper for the paper towels. (I take as telling the fact that The Wild Center, a terrific natural history museum in the Adirondacks,which prides itself on its “green building” initiatives, uses recycled paper towels in its gents’ (and, presumably, ladies’).
Cecil Adams, whose Straight Dope site I respect greatly, leans in the other direction: “[the] best guess is that standard hot-air dryers use 5 percent less energy than paper towels in the first year, and about 20 percent less over five years. If high-efficiency dryers like the Airblade really provided acceptable drying in ten seconds, then they’d use 80 percent less energy.” The Guardian (UK) concurs, at least as far as energy issues are concerned.
But, as I have remarked frequently, eshewing tree-based products does not “save” trees in the long run; in fact, sensibly managing forests for uses like paper helps preserve forests and ecosystems.
Anyway, back to the wet hands. The greenest–and yet most vile–option might very well be those old rotating cloth towels. Then again, maybe Douglas Adams was right: we should just take a towel with us everywhere we go!