Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hand Dryers Versus Paper Towels

Kimberly-Clark, the U.S. paper towel and Kleenex maker, is causing a bit of a stir among restroom hand dryer proponents. A video on its website cites two studies that found that hand dryers actually increase the amount of bacteria on the hands. According to Kimberly-Clark, jet air dryers without warm air increase bacteria on the hands by 42 percent while air dryers with warm air increase bacteria on the hands by 254 percent. Kimberly-Clark says its hand towels made from AIRFLEX fabric actually reduce bacteria by up to 55 percent.

Assuming for a moment that what Kimberly-Clark is promoting is fact, are paper towels an environmentally preferable alternative to hand dryers? Here, Kimberly-Clark's case is shaky. While the company is obviously taking a poke at companies such as Excel Dryer and Dyson B2B, Inc., those hand dryer companies make a very strong case for reducing a hotel's environmental impact through the use of their products. According to Excel Dryer, their XLERATOR hand dryer reduces the carbon footprint of hand drying (when compared to paper towels) by 50 percent to 75 percent. For the same cost as one paper towel, Dyson's Airblade hand dryer will dry 22 pairs of hands.

Back to the hygiene argument. Dyson says its Airblade hand dryer uses a HEPA filter to filter the air before it is blown on a person's hands. Excel Dryer, on its website, cites studies that prove that how one dries one's hands matters little when it comes to bacteria on the hands.

What do I think? I have to side with the hand dryer folks. I just can't believe that cutting down trees, making paper and then transporting it is a more environmentally preferable option than hand dryers. What do you think?

1 comment:

Jan Peter Bergkvist said...

A stupid blame game that I wouldn't expect mature and respectable brands to be part of.

The trick is, as I see it, to instead of making this an environmental queastion make it an operational.

Let the expectations of the customer be the judge of which sollution to chose.

Then, as always, you do a due diligience from a sustainability perspective of the technique you have decided to go for.

If paper: preferably eco-labeled, of course not chlorine bleached and with a high (up to 100%) recycled fiber. But also the technique for example an automatically teard off paper sheet is probably much more efficient than a pre folded paper towel of which you noramlly get to many, who is it distributed, where is it produced, is ist made from sustainably sourced pulp, etc etc

Or if you chose hand dryer fan:
Use renewable electricity, have the right (short) prescence timing, choose a techniqus so effcient that the guest doesn't give up and use toilet paper instead, what is it made of, where is it made (working conditions), energy consumption, etc etc

So as always plan for success from principles for sustainability to decide which action to go for in detail in every day life.

Your optimal guide line is "The four system conditions" by The Natural Step and their FFSD framework.