Have you ever looked into a University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa bathroom trashcan? It’s fine if you haven’t and trust me, I’m not normally one to go poking about in the loo, but the next time you’re on your way, go ahead and take a look.
Just as you might expect, the cans are full of paper towels. There might even be a few crumpled sheets that missed the bin and are now moseying their way across the floor. And even if it seems like that’s an awful lot of paper being tossed out, don’t fret. It just goes to show that the student body is well aware of the dangers posed by microbes and is acting accordingly.
Although it’s nice that we’re all making the effort to be sanitary, paper towels aren’t the best solution. On this campus alone, hundreds of feet of paper towels are used each day and though some of it may indeed end up on the floor, all of it finds its way to the Waimanalo Gulch landfill or H-Power plant eventually.
For instance, at UH Mānoa we’ve got a total of 19,507 students. This is about a fourth the size of Portland Community College. Though it seems like we don’t have much in common, they share a vested interest in sustainability. Back in 2012 Portland Community College replaced their paper towel dispensers with air dryers, which resulted in “a 61% decrease in district-wide energy costs related to hand drying in bathrooms,” according to the PCC Climate Action Plan.
At the moment, UH-Mānoa’s 663 restrooms mow through about 25 million feet of paper towels annually, according to the article “Assessing Paper Waste at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa”.
In a broader sense, we, as a nation, go through more than 13 billion pounds of paper towels each year according to the Paperless Project. The environmental costs of supporting our restroom habits are staggering. And yet, paper towel production harms more than just trees. At 20,000 gallons of water polluted for every 1 ton of paper towels, paper towel production pollutes water just as easily as it destroys forests.
With only 8 electric hand dryers at UH Manoa, limiting our intake of paper towels may sound difficult, but there are other alternatives. Roxanne Adams, the director of Buildings and Grounds Management, said that “there were no paper towels in public restrooms and restaurants did not readily provide paper napkins but everyone had some sort of cloth towel or handkerchief.”
This means a trip to the store. But handkerchiefs are a convenience in their own right. No more running to the bathroom any time you have to clean up a spill or wipe your face. Handkerchiefs can be folded up small enough to fit in your pocket or backpack.
Alternatively, shops such as Don Quijote sell the traditional Japanese tenugui, which is a small towel. Unlike handkerchiefs Adams explained that “Tenugui come in an endless variety of patterns, from lucky charms in humorous designs to colorful artistic designs and they are also fun to collect. They can be given as gifts and even used to wrap gifts in the traditional Japanese style of Furoshiki”
Rather than keep adding to the paper towel dilemma, I myself have begun carrying a handkerchief and have switched to fabric hand towels at home. If you would like to do the same, I encourage you to visit retailers such as Macy’s or Don Quijote to pick up your very own handkerchief or tenugui to help keep paper towel usage down.