7 facts about paper hand towels

With the paper towel industry ramping up its funding of anti-hand dryer PR campaigns, we thought we would remind decision makers of some indisputable truths:

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1. Paper Towels cannot be recycled

Paper towels are contaminated waste therefore they all have to end up in landfill.

Although paper towels can be made from previously recycled paper, they are usually the last paper product to be made in the chain.  This means that the paper they are made from has been recycled up to seven times before.  The fibres are just too short in paper towels to be used again.

2. Decomposing paper hand towels contribute to global warming

In the USA alone, 13 billion pounds (6,500,000 TONS) of paper towels are sent to landfills each year. The decay of paper products and landfills in general produce methane gas which is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide, therefore a real threat to global warming. They are also often put in plastic bags, creating further downstream problems in the recycling process.

3. The average paper towel generates 7.5gms/CO2 or 22.5 gms/CO2 per dry.

Life Cycle analysis shows that the effects of felling raw materials, transportation, manufacturing, packaging, storage on a constant loop, significatly produces a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Also, to make one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are consumed and polluted.

We have already mentioned above that decomposing paper towels produce methane gas. Methane gas is a leading cause of global warming.

4. Paper Towels are one of the biggest causes of blocked drains

We are constantly told by facilities managers that they are switching to hand dryers because they are fed up of towels blocking the toilets. People like to use them as a barrier on the seat as they give extra protection not offered by thin toilet tissue and school kids and drunk people love shoving them in the toilet! The fibres don't break down like tissue and blockages are inevitable. What is more unhygienic or downright unpleasant than a blocked toilet, not a great image!

How to unblock a toilet click here

Schools can benefit a huge amount from switching.  Included in this video is a statement by Tony Brinkman who says he was sick and tired of unblocking toilets at Cambridge University

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5. An empty paper towel dispenser is the biggest risk to hygiene

It is widely accepted that wet hands are the biggest hygiene risk and it goes without saying that hand towels are often missing and large handfuls come out at once or no one notices in time to refill the dispenser.

The paper towel industry knows this is a problem and tries to design products to reduce the chances of this, but the majority of systems are inadequate.

6. Paper towels cost on average 95% more than hand dryers

When comparing energy efficient hand dryers with paper towel costs, the savings can be massive.

Quick example:

Energy efficient hand dryer – Dryflow Vapordri

  • Rated power: 1050 W (intelligent heating system)
  • Dry time: 11 seconds
  • Energy per dry: 3.21Wh
  • Cost per 1000 dries: 39p (based on 12p per kW/h)
  • Carbon production: 1.73 Kg/CO2

Paper towels

  • Paper towels: on average, 3 taken per dry
  • Cost per paper towel: average 0.5p
  • Cost per 1000 dries: £15
  • Carbon production: 22.5 Kg/CO2

Saving: £14.62 per 1000 dries.  A 97% saving!

To put into context:

An office of 20 people

Number of toilet visits a year: 23,400 (each person using the bathroom 4.5 times a day 260 days a year)

Annual cost

Annual carbon production

Paper Towels


527 Kg/CO2

Dryflow Vapordri


41 Kg/CO2

7. There are hygiene concerns over paper towels

The paper towel industry has moved away from talking about the critical issue of hand hygiene as they well-know it’s how thoroughly you wash and dry your hands, not which method you use is the determining factor.

The PR centres around Jet dryers spreading bacteria to floors and walls when the hands have not been washed properly.

  1. These are non-touch areas
  2. The bacteria found was much less than most things we come into contact with each day
  3. The paper towel bin and overflow are a breeding ground for bacteria as it thrives in wet conditions! 

The paper towel industry also knows that many of its own dispensing systems are inadequate and cause contamination points. Wet hands reaching into dispensers to unblock them leaves a wet, damp environment for the next user.  An environment ideal for bacteria to grow in.

It has been shown that bacteria can be transferred from hands to paper-towel dispensers and then back from dispenser to hands if either one is contaminated.  This occurs when people often have trouble taking paper towels from the dispenser exit and touch the unit itself.  A common process in reality.

It's been found that six times more bacteria grew on paper-towel dispenser push-and-crank handles than on the Airblades. Manufacturers are constantly bringing out touchless systems with captive refills so they can keep prices high in the face of lower cost hand towels, the fact is that the majority of buyers still want to buy cheap' so most dispensers are touched.

A pilot study shows that bacteria actually lives in paper towels, yet this hardly gets a mention in the media. So again, shows that paper towels are not as sanitary as the paper towel industry are self-promoting.

For more information, please call us UK offices: North: 0114 3540047 South: 0203 3270448; Eire office: +353 19036387, use our contact us page by clicking here

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Written by: Andrew Cameron

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