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College Dorm Tip #1: Say No to Paper Towels

If you live in a college dorm, chances are that your bathroom has paper hand towels in it. This seems normal and acceptable, right? But wait--Does your bathroom have paper towels for you to dry your body off with after the shower? No, you're expected to bring your own.

Certainly convenience is a major factor, and expectation plays a role as well. In public restrooms, there are always either paper towels or hand dryers. But dorms aren't exactly public, and it isn't as though you can't simply walk back to your room and dry your hand off on a towel there... or better yet, bring your own hand towel into the bathroom.

Green Gal's College Dorm Tip #1 is to just say no to paper towels. Bring your own cloth towel, air dry your hands, dry your hands on your jeans, enjoy the coolness of the water--just don't pull one of those paper towels from the dispenser. It simply isn't worth it. At UCSC, 33-40% of the waste that goes into the landfills comes from paper towels (Source: UCSC Sustainability Office Zero Waste Team). You can be part of the solution to waste production on your campus and everywhere you go--why not air dry your hands after washing them in every restroom, or bring a hand towel in your backpack or purse and use it to dry your hands. Do you really need paper towels in your life?
You can also order these stickers from and put them up on paper towel dispensers!

At UC Santa Cruz, we have paper towels in all of the dorm bathrooms. Students in Path to a Greener Stevenson (PTAGS) environmental club at UCSC's Stevenson College are working to eliminate paper towels from the dorm bathrooms in an effort to reduce waste and encourage more sustainable living practices by students. I'm a member of this environmental group, and I think this is a great idea that, if it can be accomplished, should be spread nationwide. Progress is being made to speak to those who have the power to make this idea a reality. In any case, we're working on creating signage to put up in the dorm bathrooms to draw attention to the waste created by paper towels. We're working on getting funds to purchase hand towels to give to students when they move in so they can use those to dry their hands instead of paper towels.

I'm curious--has anyone heard of this sort of an effort on other college campuses? Have any other green tips related to paper towel use that you want to share? Want details on PTAGS's efforts? Leave a comment, or send me an email!

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal


  1. I haven't heard of such an initiative anywhere else, and perhaps this will catch on.

    I do have questions though.
    Yes getting rid of paper towels will reduce waste, but how will that influence the spread of germs/sickness?

    Each paper towel is 'clean' before use, but if people were to switch to wiping their hands on their pants, or reusing a towel every time they use the restroom will that create a bed for germs to fester?

    People use the restroom far more frequently than they shower, and the shower towel is given time to dry between use (more often than not) and this in turn can cut down on the magnitude of the bacterial growth.

    Now, people could rotate towels, but that may be a lot to ask the average person to do, especially with the majority of people not even acknowledging the magnitude or implications that global climate change carries.

    So then we come to powered air driers, which may be (in my opinion) the best way to remove paper towels from restrooms and getting more people to forgo the paper tower entirely.

    Having said this, I would be curious to see the cost difference between stocking restrooms with paper towels (cost of paper towels, paying the janitorial staff to restock the dispensers as well as clean up misc towel waste, trash bags, trash service, dispenser maintenance, etc) and the initial cost of installation and use of powered driers to the institution.

    It may also be interesting to consider heated standard driers and something more high tech like the Dyson Airblade drier.

    We would also need to look at how using the electricity impacts pollution as well as local and global health. The same consideration would need to be considered in the production of both and getting them to their destination.

    Do you know if a study similar has already been undertaken to see the greater impact of removing paper from restrooms, rather than simply thinking of sustainability? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for sustainability, but there are so many factors that go into everything we use/do, it's hard to REALLY to see what the impact of changing to something new has.

    I would suggest a cursory study into this at UCSC, perhaps within your club, or if you or your group don't feel up to the task, draft a proposal or inquiry to the school administration. You could pitch it as a possible money saving initiative with likely positive environmental fringe benefits.

    The business people in charge of institutions (anything really) gobble up cost saving possibilities while being able to say 'LOOK WE'RE GOING GREEN'.

    Just some thoughts. :)

    Keep on posting tho, I enjoy reading your stuff.

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  4. I like the idea of trying to reduce waste but I have a solution that may catch on a little better. I think that dorms should start using the money for the paper towels to install Dyson airblade eco-friendly hand driers in all the bathrooms.

    This solves the waste problem and the spread of germs because it was designed to really get the water off instead of putting the germs on.

    The costs for running a Dyson airblade dryer for a whole year is only $35 wile the cost for a normal hand dryer is over $180!!

    I am currently writing a proposal to my dorm director about it. I am praying that she will consider it!

  5. The noise from electric dryers would create a very significant problem for rooms closest to the bathroom in traditional residence halls. Studies have shown that warm air dryers are not environmentally friendly compared to other options and as any biology major would tell you adding warmth to the moist environment that is a community bathroom promotes bacteria growth...

  6. Awesome post. thanks for sharing this knowledge maxiglobalreview


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