Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giving Paper The Pink Slip

My final project for "Environmental Economics: Evaluating the Impact of Sustainable Practices" from UCSD, is comparing the use of paper towels versus electronic hand dryer. The aim is to find out which of the two alternatives has a higher life cycle cost and subsequently which makes more long term economic and environmental sense.

There are various parts with attached values that will have to be considered in this project.

First from the towel side, things like number of paper towels consumed, cost of the towels, handling costs like cost of generating requisitions and purchase orders receiving, servicing towel dispensers, cost of trash cans and plastic liners,
increased maintenance work resulting from messy paper towel usage, collecting and disposing of used towels etc.
And from the hand dryer side, number of hand drying, hours of hand dryer usage, cost of electricity, maintenance of the motors, cleaning filters and repair etc.

Most of the hand dryers fail in their primary function of drying hands, they either take 20-30 seconds to dry hand(which seems like an eternity because you have to stand in one spot for so long) or blasts with a little too warm air. Also there is a issue with blasting your hands with recirculated air from the bathrooms which is saturated with tiny particles of you-know-what.

On the other hand the paper cost a fortune, virgin or recycled both use resources that head straight to the landfill. The thought of using trees for wiping your hand is saddening too. Though hand dryers use energy, they automatically shut down and therefore don't waste energy. They eliminate the need of paper and keep paper out of the waste stream.

The climate conservancy in the article "
PAPER TOWELS VS. ELECTRIC HAND DRYERS" conclude that about 0.123 pounds of greenhouse-gas emissions per paper-towel session (the researchers assumed that a hand-washer uses two towels to dry off). The range for hand dryers, by contrast, was between 0.02 pounds and 0.088 pounds, depending on wattage and drying time.

It does seem like a good choice to use hand dryers. Currently the two most recommended and energy efficient hand dryers are
Xlerator which is Green Spec approves and helps qualify for LEED, and Dyson that dries in just 12 seconds.

All said and done most people still like using paper towels, so what is s agood environmental choice for them? Greenpeace recently released its latest "Recycled Tissue and Toilet Paper Guide". This guide will help you find the most green brands of paper towels and tissue.

To download it in a handy pocket size format click here.

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