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Air-dryer vs paper towels

It’s the classic public loo dilemma. Air-dryers are slow, noisy and seem to burn through electricity. But that bin overflowing with damp paper towels is going straight to landfill. What’s a soul with wet hands and good intentions to do?

It’s the classic public loo dilemma. Air-dryers are slow, noisy and seem to burn through electricity. But that bin overflowing with damp paper towels is going straight to landfill. What’s a soul with wet hands and good intentions to do?

Unfortunately for those of us who hate the things, the air-dryer gets the green thumbs up. That was the conclusion of a recent lifecycle analysis by US environmental consultancy ERM, which pitted a 30-second blow-dry against the use of two paper towels.

The air-dryer was found to have less than half the global warming burden of the paper towels, over a five-year lifespan. That’s because paper towels take energy to manufacture, transport and remove—and they can’t be recycled, because they’ve just been contaminated by your freshly washed paws. New Zealand’s higher proportion of renewable electricity increases the air-dryer’s advantage even further.

One thing in paper’s favour: towels are more hygienic than hot air. If you’re not ready to sacrifice a satisfying hand-wipe, insist on recycled paper towels and halve your impact by using only one towel instead of two.

Better than paper towels, though still not as good as air-dryers, are those continuous cloth loop contraptions. Despite being laundered at a ridiculous 150°C, they still use only about 10% of the energy required to manufacture paper towels, and about 13% as much water—including their frequent washing.

Confused? We prefer to avoid the decision entirely and wipe our hands on our trousers or spruce up our hair. If that grosses you out (fair enough) make like 100 million Japanese and carry a handkerchief or facecloth especially for drying your hands.

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