we were in Yellowstone this summer, pretty much the big stink at all the lodges/inns/hotels/cabins/resorts/marinas/camp grounds/etc. was how "green" they were. Every square inch of the landscape was plastered with signs saying how this toilet used less water, the light bulbs used less electricity, the paper towels were recycled. Since I wrote the recent post on acting "green", I wanted to mention my loathing of "faux green" things, and in general the inappropriate use of technology to try to promote something that isn't so.
But there's so much of it around us every day, I don't know where to start. I bet I could find 100 things that fit the category (inappropriate use of technology, usually to make one think something is "green") just around my own home. So I decided to pick a random thing that irked my in Yellowstone to start with. Paper towel dispensers.
At the top of this post is a picture of the standard towel dispenser in use in millions of restrooms all over the world. It's inexpensive, has no moving parts (I'm not counting the door to refill the dispenser, I mean it has no parts that need to move to dispense paper towels), cheap to construct, hygienic (made from easy to clean stainless steel) and kind cute. How could we improve on it?
Just to make things better, nearly every one was "broken" like I believe the one pictured is. Rather than deliver a paper towel when you approach it and wave a hand in front of it (like the inappropriate ones I see around NJ), it leaves a paper towel hanging in the air, collecting overspray, germs, etc. When one tears off a sheet of paper, another one immediately descends, in order to catch whatever germs it can before the next hapless user arrives.
I have not seen an in-depth energy budget for these things, but I would suggest that if you use waste industrial heat to manufacture your paper towels, and at the end of life burn them in a co-gen facility, the paper towels wind up being "greener". There are just too many variables to make that analysis.
Plus, aside from the green arguments, they are noisy, take a long time to dry hands (relative to a wipe of a paper towel), and as one article I read points out, blow air at the perfect temperature to promote bacterial growth. Add to that the fact that they can't be used to wipe a stain off a shirt, or in fact wipe up anything, and I am not a big fan.
Note that, in addition to the above complaints, since most of these device must sense your hands, they uses electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whether someone is drying their hands or not. I doubt that fact is advertised as a cost by the manufacturer.
All this to save the energy in a paper towel. While I support not wasting paper, is this actually a large enough issue to warrant the time, expense, and sanitary compromises made in order to use these high-tech solutions? Don't we have bigger waster and energy use issues to solve?
Admittedly, some of these technologies have some benefits to offset the disadvantages, but one does not. It delivers the same old paper towel, but with more waste. And so I hereby award the prize for most inappropriate use of technology in a restroom to the motion sensor paper towel dispenser.