Monday, January 31, 2011

Paper or Xlerator, the quintessential public bathroom question.

Guest blog by: Brian Payne,  a freelance writer and editor living in New York City. For his day job, Brian works as an Internet marketing specialist for Site-Seeker, Inc.

Can high-speed, high-efficiency electric hand dryers like the XLERATORreally be better for the environment than paper towels? That’s what we aim to find out.
Paper towels are one of those head-smacking, intuitive inventions that seem like they should have been around forever. Like anti-bacterial soap or the combustion engine. But, like the above, there are some hidden downsides to their constant use.
The main benefit of paper towels is also their largest flaw: By being a cheap, disposable way to wipe up spills and dry your hands, you end up generating mountains of waste in the name of convenience. And since convenience is a pretty big market, manufacturers are more than happy to clear forests to keep pushing out paper towels.
There are a lot of different statistics out there. According to theEnvironmental Paper Network’s “The State of the Paper Industry,” the paper industry is the fourth-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and paper makes up a quarter of landfill waste.
An obvious answer to our reliance on paper towels is to use cloth towels. Sure, cloth towels also take energy and exert a toll on the environment, but they’re reusable. But problems with paper towels don’t extend only into the home.
If you’ve ever used a very old restroom (or remember restrooms from “back in the day”) you may recall seeing a very large cloth towel roll built into a machine on the wall. Those contraptions were as unhygienic as they were unpleasant to use. And much paper towel waste occurs, naturally, in buildings and facilities with public restrooms.
So what’s the answer?
The truth is, there isn’t a definitive answer to waste and environmental damage. But there is one truth: some types of electric hand dryers really are better than paper towels.
According to a “Life Cycle Assessment” performed by Quantis, when taking into account the manufacture, transportation, use, and end-of-life, high-effiency electric hand dryers are significantly better for the environment than their alternatives. The Quantis study found high-efficiency electric hand dryers to contribute to climate change significantly less. Paper towels’s high energy requirements associated with manufacture, transportation, and end-of-life were significant factors in effecting climate change.
Even though it may seem counterintuitive, a huge, honking electric hand dyer is better for the environment than using those coarse, brown recycled paper towels. And according to a cost calculator on the Excel Dryer website, they cost less, too.
Instead of grabbing a wad of towels to quickly dry your hands, high-efficiency, high-speed electric hand dryers completely dry your hands in ten to fifteen seconds.
A little excess goes a long way toward wrecking the environment: Giant cars hogging the highways, gobs of injection-molded plastic containing our tiny electronic devices, and mountains of empty bottles piling up in landfills. But the XLERATOR, and other high-efficiency electric hand dryers, really is one case of the “Bigger is better” mentality actually helping the environment.


  1. I've always wanted to know if I should use paper or those blowers... but most of the times the blowers are out of commission (or maybe i just visit a lot of public restrooms in need of repair), so my pants usually works out to be a great alternative...

  2. Very nice article! When you consider the fact that the paper towels that the patron uses to wash his hands took more than twice as much energy to make than the energy the hand dryer uses to dry hands, it's really a no brainer. The fact is, hand dryers use very little energy per dry, and those big honking ones like the Xlerator are actually more energy efficient than the slow ones that a rethink is complaining about.

    Plus, there's the fact that you aren't cutting down trees, transporting the paper towels, stocking them, (running out of them) cleaning up after them (pulling them out of toilets) and finally sending them to the landfill. (All that work just to throw them out!)

    Using hand dryers is such an easy way to help the environment. Of course, I'm biased, working for a hand dryer distributor ( but I love what I do because I feel I am making a difference!