By Amanda Czepiel
We are entering the flu season, and with it comes a greater need to wash and dry hands both at home and in the workplace. At home, you probably use a reusable bathroom or kitchen towel that can be thrown in the clothes hamper on a regular basis—a green practice! But often, at the workplace, such green luxuries are unavailable. So what it is the most environmentally responsible way to wash and dry your hands at work?
All ways of hand washing in the workplace will use resources—electricity, water, paper—but the trick is to figure out which method creates the least amount of detrimental environmental impact. There is no way to completely eliminate water use, but you can educate employees on how to use water efficiently by turning off faucets during hand soaping. To go a step further, you may want to consider installing low-flow faucets or motion sensors on faucets to maximize water savings.
The next question is whether to install an air hand dryer or provide paper towels. According to Rodale, the standard hand dryer uses as much as 2,200 watts of power, making them a big energy drain, but dryers are efficient and are continually getting more efficient. As for paper towels, they are convenient, but most often, unless a company has made a strong effort to "green" workplace paper products, chances are they are made from virgin paper fibers rather than recycled content. Because it takes a considerable amount of energy to turn raw fiber into paper, the use of paper towels is very resource intensive.
Which method did the Rodale Institute choose? Hand dryers. With both methods equally as effective at cleaning hands of bacteria, hand dryers were found, when comparing the entire lifecycle of an electric dryer with the lifecycle of a paper towel, to have a smaller environmental footprint. Hand dryers are also more economically friendly, as Rodale reports that refilling paper towel dispensers over and over adds up to $23 per 1,000 uses, as compared with hand dryers, which require $1.47 per 1,000 uses.
But what if a hand dryer is unavailable? Follow these "green" steps:
Air dry. Rather than reaching for that paper towel, let the water evaporate from your hands—no electricity used and nothing to throw into the trash can!
Use just one. It seems that most people can't use just one paper towel. But really, one towel is often just enough to adequately dry two hands.
Carry a tissue or reusable cloth. If you are worried about touching a contaminated bathroom door handle, use a cloth that you can wash at home.
Do you have any tips for keeping your hands green and clean?