REVISION DATE:June 11th 2010



ABSTRACT

The purpose of this research project is to figure out which is better for the environment, hand dryers or paper towels. Which is better to consume, energy or trees? My research will be based on other studies that I will research, specifically the impact of World Dryers and a roll of paper towels. The energy consumption and landfill use will be compared as well as the sanitary aspect of both of these options. Research will be taken from the websites Slate and Chinastic.


PROCEDURES

1. Find how much energy is used to power one hand dryer.
2. See how many trees are used to create one roll of paper towels and see how much energy the dispensers use.
3. List the pros and cons of using hand dryers as compared to using paper towels.(Find if the amount of energy used is worse than the amount of trees being used and the work to get all of that waste disposed)
4. Figure out which one is more sanitary.




MEASUREMENTS

The amount of energy used by one hand dryer
Amount of energy used for one towel dispenser
Compare how long it takes to dry your hands with a hand dryer and paper towels.




FINDINGS

Currently there is a debate right now about which is truly better for the environment, hand dryers or paper towels. Unfortunately, there is not a definite answer. From an environmental perspective hand dryers are better because they use less energy and emit less greenhouse gases than the process of making paper towels. Hand dryers use electricity and they use about 2,200 watts of power and use two more watts when they are in "standby mode". Dryers typically dry your hands for 30 seconds. Therefore in using hand dryers three times a day for a year you would use 19.71 kWH of electricity emitting 26.61 pounds of carbon dioxide. The most environmentally friendly hand dryers use less than 1,000 watts of power. (1)
Paper towels use more energy than hand dryers.One ton of paper consumes seventeen tress. Machines must be used to cut down trees, transform the tree to paper, and then the paper towels must be transported to restrooms. The transportation of paper towels happens much more frequently than the transportation of hand dryers because hand dryers last much longer. People are often very unsanitary in restrooms and other areas. That leads to the usage of chemicals to clean the area. These chemicals can then infect the air and water which hurts the environment as well. Paper towels are not reusable and therefore they have to go to a landfill. That in itself is just wasted material taking up a lot of space. Even though paper towels are not reusable they can be made of recycled material. This means that they use 40% less energy than if they did not use recycled material. A more direct comparison of energy usage between hand dryers and paper towels is that one use of a hand dryer is equivalent to someone using two paper towels. One use of a hand dryer emits 0.02lbs- 0.088lbs depending on wattage and drying time. The use of two paper towels emits 0.123lbs of greenhouse gas.(1) Based on this data hand dryers seem to be the better choice environmentally.
There is a downside to using hand dryers. Hand dryers typically are on for around thirty seconds. Most people do not even wait for that long to dry their hands. To completely dry your hands with a hand dryer you would need to wait forty three seconds. People are fast moving and do not want to wait to have their hands completely dry. With this mindset most people most people do not completely dry there hands. This allows bacteria to increase. Hand dryers increase by 255% the general bacterial counts on the hands. Papers towels take about ten to twenty seconds to completely dry your hands. This is about the time that people remain under a hand dryer. Paper towels actually reduce general bacteria counts by about 58%.(2)
There is not clearly an answer to which is better for the environment. It really depends on what a person particularly cares about. Do you care more about the environment or cleanliness? Now many people who use paper towels use excessive amounts. If people were to reduce there paper towel usage to one sheet, then the emission of greenhouse gases between that and hand dryers would be very close. In the long run the chemical emissions of hand dryers are not that much better than paper towels. However the process of making paper towels does emit a lot of fossil fuels which does hurt our environment. Based on this research hand dryers are the environmentally friendly choice.
Based on this research, I am going to strive to use less paper towels and see if the paper towels I use at home, if I could buy the ones that are made of recycled paper. Also if I use a hand dryer I would make sure to stay there for 43 seconds. I could even try and present this research to my school to see if they would consider using hand dryers instead of paper towels in the bathrooms. Even though these changes are small, in the long run they could have a much larger impact and every little bit helps.

Sources:

1. CRIENGLISH.com. "Hand Dryer vs Paper Towels." CRIENGLISH.com. N.p., 4 Apr. 2006. Web. 3 June 2010. <http://english.cri.cn/974/2006/04/20/ 63@79741.htm>.
2. Koerner, Brendan I. "Electric Hand Dryers vs. Paper Towels." Slate. N.p., 17 June 2008. Web. 26 May 2010. <http://www.slate.com/id/2193740>.