Paper towels or air dryers?

September 21, 2010

What’s the most eco-friendly way to dry your hands?

Arg – it’s not entirely simple.

This much is certain: drying your hands by waving them in the air is the most eco-friendly way to go.  You can also choose to wipe them on your (dark) clothing when no one’s looking– but not everyone likes either option.

Dryers that use just a high-speed blast of unheated air have no power-hungry heating element, so they are by far the next best choice.  The Dyson AirBlade dryer is an example; here’s one in action (25 seconds).

The other two common options, conventional heated air dryers and paper towels, are both far less eco-friendly – but which is the greater villain is less clear.  Most sources rank dryers as more eco-friendly than paper.  (Dryers use a lot of power, but produce no trash.  Paper towels come from trees, and lots of water and energy are used to make them.  Disposal of used paper towels takes energy too – think garbage bags, garbage trucks, landfills.  As well, most people don’t use just one towel.)  But if paper is the only option available, one towel is always better than two.

So, in eco-order: air drying; drying with a high-speed blast of unheated air; drying with a heated air dryer (as short a blast as possible); drying with one paper towel.


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