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At work, I have noticed a staggering level of paper towel usage and it's disheartening to see it getting wasted, even though hand dryers are installed in all rest rooms. I plan to propose reducing the paper towel consumption in our office.

I have already got the "price" card (large sum of money is getting wasted) with me to showcase to higher management and stress the importance of reducing consumption. However I believe it will be better if I can give another reason to reduce usage.

Is there any considerable impact that paper towels have on the environment? What major environmental impacts can I bring up to emphasize the importance of reducing paper towel usage?

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    What is the tissue paper used for? What alternatives are you considering in your proposal? – LShaver Feb 22 '17 at 6:06
  • @LShaver The tissue paper is used for wiping hands and face (Paper towels) to be precise. Most of the employees are very much lethargic in its usage, they are not going for hand dryers even though they are installed in every rest room. I was thinking to suggest limiting the supply of paper towels and force them to use hand dryer provided to them. Also i believe increasing the habit of using handkerchief made out of cloth will greatly help this cause :) Thoughts please ? – Frank Donald Feb 23 '17 at 3:24
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    I can't find the source, but I remember reading that a simple sticker on the paper towel dispenser saying "these come from trees" can reduce usage quite a bit. – LShaver Feb 23 '17 at 3:31
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    related: Best way to dry hands? – LShaver Feb 23 '17 at 3:33
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    @LShaver Yes the stickers are already used in the dispensers, there was improvement but not significant. Thank you for the link got some useful insights which might help me improve my suggestion. – Frank Donald Feb 24 '17 at 4:04
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I was able to find several different news articles discussing this topic:

The most thorough treatment I found comes from an MIT study*, referenced by The Guardian: "Life Cycle Assessment of Hand Drying Systems" (executive summary (pdf) and full report (pdf)).

The study includes this graphic:

enter image description here

From the full report, the key drivers of environmental impact from paper towels are:

  • Manufacturing. The manufacture of paper towels makes up half the GHG emissions, and half the water consumption, for the total life-cycle.
  • Materials production and transportation. The sourcing, processing, and transport of wood and wood products which are used in the manufacture of paper towels also result in significant water use and GHG emissions.
  • Waste disposal. Because used paper towels are sent to landfills and not recycled, they result in additional GHG emissions, as the paper bio-degrades in landfills releasing CO2 to the atmosphere.

All three of these areas are obviously on-going issues for paper towels, whereas an electric hand-dryer only needs to manufactured and transported once, and doesn't produce on-going waste material.


*The study was commissioned by Dyson, so I would be a bit skeptical (without spending more time reviewing the paper in depth) about the conclusions when comparing Dyson hand dryers to their competitors. However the authors do note that Dyson and Xlerator dryers have similar impact when the time constraints are relaxed, unlike Dyson's (expected) assertion that their product is always better.

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    Thank you very much for this answer, great piece of work. You have done great help for me as well to environment – Frank Donald Mar 7 '17 at 6:43

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