Paper or Air: Which Method Is Greener?

The choice is in your hands.

Stanford Magazine
Jul 3, 2017 · 6 min read

Q. Does the amount of paper saved by electric hand dryers offset the increased energy cost and use? What about considerations of hygiene and greenhouse gas emissions? — Anonymous

The Essential Answer

When drying my hands in a public restroom, I always wonder: Should I trust those stickers that say the hand dryer in front of me is eco-friendly or grab a paper towel? Although we at SAGE washed our hands of this mess a while back, the constant pace of technology warrants an updated answer.

The Nitty-Gritty

The debate over paper towels vs. air dryers has reached hand-to-hand combat levels, with conflicting studies commissioned by both the paper towel and air dryer industries. There’s a lot at stake: Paper towels command a $2.5 billion industry and Americans use 270 million trees’ worth of them each year. While one study commissioned by the European Tissue Committee (yes, this is real) finds air dryers to be less hygienic than paper towels, the air dryer groups are quick to fight back.

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