In today’s age of hot-button political issues, I would like to shift course from grand policy questions, such as whether or not taxation is theft, to a more pressing issue that I fear we have neglected.
I am talking, of course, about the use of paper towels in restrooms.
A knee-jerk reaction to paper towels is typically — “Ban them!” After all, we have hand dryers, which stops paper waste and clutter in restrooms. Sounds like a win-win, right? Indeed, there are forces at play within Truman State University student government to remove them altogether and transition to the cleaner alternative of hand dryers. Let me say, this would be a grave error.
Finding a shocking lack of paper towel apologetic literature, consider this to be a manifesto on the defense of the utility of paper towels rather than hand dryers.
First of all, paper towels are more effective and less burdensome than air dryers. Hand dryers come in two varieties — the low-power, ineffective, breezy kind, where it takes nearly a full 60 seconds to accomplish what paper towels do in 10, or the jet engine kind, which causes partial deafness, while still falling short of paper towels. For the time-crunched student, paper towels are far more convenient than hand dryers. Grab a couple, wipe your hands — bada bing, bada boom — you’re out of the bathroom. Meanwhile, hand dryers take far longer, cause early-onset hearing loss and often leave hands wet even after using them. When given no alternative, I find myself opting out of using a hand dryer, meaning my sopping wet hands drip on the floor, creating a safety hazard in the process. Paper towels save time and lives.
Furthermore, let us consider the environmental cost. Paper towels create paper waste. The average American creates 45 pounds of paper towel waste per year, leading to 13 billion pounds of waste, nationwide, according to the Paperless Project. By eliminating paper towels from Truman’s restrooms, our campus would help make a miniscule, almost non-existent dent in that waste. So by all means, let’s make it happen. However, 80 percent of Missouri power is generated by burning coal, the most carbon-emission-intensive form of energy, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Essentially, we would be trading one sin for a greater sin. We can assume these new-fangled hand dryers would be powered by coal and other fossil fuels, contributing to the greenhouse effect. Our landfill footprint would decrease, but our carbon footprint would increase. I consider this too high of a price to go paper towel-less. For the sake of our planet, paper towels are the superior alternative.
Now let us consider cost. A quick Google search for hand dryers reveals a basic model, “Xlerator,” is $400 per unit. Throw in added cost of installation and maintenance for each and every bathroom on campus, and the costs quickly climb. Meanwhile, Uline paper towels provide 4,000 paper towels per $35 case. Is one hand dryer worth thousands of paper towels in terms of cost? Maybe in the long run, hand dryers could offer some savings, but in such budget-strapped times as these, the initial start-up cost should be a non-negotiable to transition into a hand-dryer exclusive campus.
Finally, paper towel use is not limited to drying hands. Picture a beautiful spring day in Kirksville. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and sinuses are running. Some of our poor allergy-afflicted peers really need to blow their noses before their next classes. They duck into the nearest restroom and, to their relief, there is a paper towel available to them. The case is not so for the paper towel-less campus, where sleeves, or worse, hands are the only option. In these circumstances, germs spread, creating a campus where sickness abounds.
There’s also the instances where a deliciously-crafted Sodexo pizza splatters on your perfect outfit, leaving an embarrassing stain. A quick trip to the bathroom, coupled with a wet paper towel, provides an emergency measure for a stained article of clothing. Its opponent is left out to dry in this round.
The further uses of paper towels are endless. Need a napkin? Paper towels. Want a handkerchief? Paper towels. Something to dispose of your gum? Paper towels. Need to clean your shoes? Ding, ding — we have a winner — paper towels.
So it appears all of this hooplah surrounding hand dryers is nothing but hot air, and for all these reasons, they really should throw in the towel. Paper towels are no wet blanket, providing a multi-use, efficient tool for our everyday bathroom needs. So hand dryers can hit the showers, as paper towels have everything we need in an easily-dispensed package. Let Truman never forget the debt of gratitude we owe to — nor forsake and replace — the real MVP, paper towels.