It’s official, air driers are more environmentally-friendly than paper towels

Hot air blowing hand driers produce half the global warming burden of paper towels, although the use of paper towels results in lower resource depletion, a report commissioned by the air drier manufacturer Airdri has revealed.

The streamlined life-cycle assessment study, carried out by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), is based on the assumption that each time a person dries their hands they use either two paper towels or 30 seconds of hot air from the hand drier, and has revealed that the use of driers results in lower global warming, acidification, ecotoxicity, human toxicity, nutrification, ozone depletion and photochemical smog.

However, the use of paper towels results in lower resource depletion if non-renewable energy is used to power the hand driers, says the report.

Over its lifetime, a drier will result in 1.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of a car travelling 5,100 km (3,200 miles). However, over the same time period, the use of paper towels results in emissions of 4.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the same as a car travelling 14,500 km (9,000 miles), says the report.

The environmental impact of the drier stems from the manufacture and supply of the equipment and its packaging, the consumption of electricity for drying hands, and the disposal to landfill of the drier at the end of its useful life. Paper towels require the manufacture, supply and disposal of a towel dispenser, a bin for disposal of towels, bags for use in the bin, the paper towels, the packaging for all four products, and the disposal of the products to landfill.

“This study backs up a lot of recent research into the environmental impact of warm air hand driers compared to paper towels,” said Airdri Marketing and Sales Manager John Curzon. “Airdri has always demonstrated that hand driers deliver significant cost savings against paper, especially when the additional costs associated with cleaning, supply, storage and disposal are taken into account and this new study now supports that claim in respect of environmental performance and impact.”

However, ERM emphasizes that the results of the study are dependent on the accuracy of the assumptions made, including the drying time, the number of towels used per dry, the type of electricity generation used, transportation arrangements, and the disposal of used paper towels. Further research is needed into the average time that hand driers are used for, and the average number of paper towels used on each occasion.

“Even so, hand driers also offer a comprehensive 24/7 hand drying solution – they don’t run out,” Curzon added “Anyone who’s ever been to a washroom that has run out of paper or where the tail end of the roller towel is sodden from over-use, would almost certainly choose a warm air drier solution. I know I would.”

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