U of M: paper towel dispensers are step forward

The University of Manitoba is continuously looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly while cutting costs and saving energy around campus.

In the 2008-09 year alone the U of M was able to save $4.8 million in utility services according to the most recent sustainability report.

U of M students and staff may have noticed the increased number of new paper towel dispensers in more bathrooms. These paper towel dispensers will not be replacing the electric hand dryers and some may see this as a step backwards in terms of being environmentally sustainable.

According to the University of Manitoba Recycling and Environmental Group (UMREG) coordinator, Anders Annell, the recycled paper used in paper towel dispensers is the lowest grade of paper. It can only be sent out as trash or used as material for compost, instead of being recycled after use.

Theresa Bowser, an instructor from the faculty of nursing who specializes in community and public health, explained that there is no confirmation on which method is more sanitary.

She responded, “It’s a little bit up in the air as to what’s better.”

From a health perspective, paper towels are typically the more sanitary method for hand drying. This is because, over time, electric hand dryers can begin to accumulate dust and other air traveling particles and blow them onto your hands.

From an environmental perspective, UMREG feels that using electric hand dryers is a better alternative.

The electricity and resources used to power a hand dryer is minuscule, compared to the amount of energy needed to process and reuse recycled paper fibers for paper towel, only to have them end up in dumps because they cannot be recycled a second time, explained Annell.

The real answer as to why there is an increased presence of new and updated paper towel dispensers is a renewed contracted with janitorial supply providers. Maire McDermott, the sustainability coordinator for the U of M, explained that, with this renewed contract, “new dispensers are hands free units that minimize hand contact and are safer and more hygienic than the old dispensers. All janitorial paper supplies are Green Seal and/or Eco-logo certified.”

Annell still feels that they could do better. “[The U of M] really isn’t jumping on the bandwagon with all the other universities [ . . . including] bottled water and the way new buildings are built.”