Another restroom post? Intellectual conumdrums

Salon published an essay on restrooms and handwashing, perhaps because AB has persisted in posting on this issue.

So far this year Americans have used 1.8 million tons of paper towels and tissue, according to the American Forest & Paper Association, an industry group. There are approximately 3 million hand dryers installed in the country and most run for 30 seconds around 100 times a day, according to World Dryer Corp., one of the country’s leading manufacturers. That’s 690 billion watts of electricity every day — enough power to run an estimated 280,000 homes for an entire year.

So the Climate Conservancy, a nonprofit group started by Stanford University climate scientists, which aims to help consumers determine the greenhouse gas emissions associated with products, helped me crunch some numbers. Its calculations look not just at carbon dioxide, but the other five gases, identified by the Kyoto Protocol, that contribute to global warming (methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbon, hydrofluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride) to get what is called a CO2 equivalence.

Anyway, the hand dryer would seem to be the wise choice. But hold on. There’s something else to consider. The average temperature of air that flows from a warm air dryer is insufficient to kill most bacteria, according to a 1998 study by Britain’s University of Westminster. The study finds that paper towels removed 58 percent of the bacteria from people’s hands. Air dryers, meanwhile, increase the numbers of all sorts of bacteria by 255 percent! That’s because the dryers either suck up germs and then spew them back out, or people don’t spend the necessary time under the heat to kill the germs.

If one hand dryer sequence uses the equivalent of 1/16th mile of driving for an average car, how much mileage do we get out of the issue? Apparently some more. As a micro-cosm of individual responsibility and the complexities of issues involved, and as a cultural issue and market of personal responibility, I find it is in your hands to decide.