LiveGreen: One less paper towel a day

Do you dry your hands correctly? I know it sounds like a silly question. If your hands are dry, you’ve done it correctly, right?

I beg to differ.

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by Melanie Stewart

Did you know Americans use 13 million pounds of paper towels every year?

Just on this campus, we currently use 7,750 miles of paper towels every year. That’s not a typo, that’s miles of paper towels. Need perspective? Laid end to end, that will get you from Omaha across the Atlantic, through Europe, and all the way to New Delhi, India — with 200 miles of paper towels to spare!

But what are you supposed to do about it? Washing hands is important, as is drying them. The question is, how many paper towels do we really need to dry our hands? Most of us take three — some take a few more.

If you want to be really efficient you can get by with just one paper towel every time you wash your hands. For a quick tutorial on how to do it, check out this short TED talk video.

I’ll admit, I was skeptical. It’s not like our paper towel holders are stocked with the super-duper-absorbent-quilted-whatever paper towels. But I had to try. Much to my delight, the technique described works. You do have to follow all the steps, including the folding in half, with the most important part being shaking the water off.

Important note: Do not shake water all over the mirrors, counters and floors. Making a mess elsewhere isn’t sustainable or polite. If your infection-control procedures require you to do something specific, do not change your protocol. Health and safety is always more important.

Did you know that if every American used just one less paper towel per day, we would reduce the use of paper towels by 571.2 million pounds per year? That would save 11.4 trillion gallons of water and 4.8 million trees a year. Not to mention all the gas consumed and pollution emitted to convert trees into paper towels and transport them to their destinations.

I challenge you to try this out. One less paper towel per person per day. At home and at work, you can make a simple change that will have a huge impact.