Experimenting with One Paper Towel

By Savannah Pocisk

In a five minute TED Talk presented by Joe Smith, he dips his hands in water, shakes them 12 times, and dries them with one paper towel sheet. Why 12 times to shake your hands, he asks? Because it is the only double-digit number with one syllable, he jokes.

Many people grab multiple towels to dry their hands. However, Joe Smith teaches how to reduce paper towel consumption by his method of “shake and fold.” He says shake your hands and fold the paper towel and you will only need one sheet.

To give a brief history, paper towels stemmed from the creation of paper tissues. Paper towels do come from trees. Therefore, it is important to minimize our usage as much as possible because unsustainable logging leads to forest degradation and wildlife loss, says the World Wildlife Fund. Ultimately, this accelerates climate change.

Paper towels are a staple item to many people’s daily lives. We don’t think twice when we grab one, two, or three from the dispenser. They are also in every building on campus. In a small survey polled at Miami University, 64 percent of participants used two sheets of paper towel to dry their hands.

For the fall academic semester of 2014 and the academic semesters of 2015, Miami purchased $83,836 worth of paper towel rolls for Miami’s on-campus housing. The Dayton Daily News reports Miami’s on-campus housing capacity is 7,520 students. Now imagine instead of grabbing two sheets everyone grabbed one. The new total would roughly be $41,918 and come to $5.60 per student.

Paper Towels vs. Hand Dryers

Hand dryers are spotted less frequently on campus. Paper towels are the staple to dry your hands on Miami’s campus. While it is not definite, possible reasoning behind this could be noise produced by hand dryers and user preference towards paper towels.

It is a myth that hand dryers are unsanitary as various research showed no significant difference between paper towels and hand dryers. In one survey done by the University of Buffalo, hand dryers were cleaner and produce less CO2 than paper towels. Paper towels incur increased negativity because the material they are made of is not recyclable further adding to increased waste.

Currently, other schools are trying to change students’ dependency on paper towels. Some universities like Arizona State University have implemented the “These come from trees” stickers on paper towel dispensers as shown in the picture.savannah

Other schools like University of Colorado Boulder have tried to get rid of paper towels and the attributed waste by implementing hand dryers as an alternative. At Wesleyan University, they rid all residence halls of them for the current school year after discovering 15 percent of the universities waste comes from paper towels.

As more schools aim to decrease their paper towel consumption, could Miami follow in their footsteps? This week try to follow the “shake and fold” method to see if you can get by with one sheet of paper towel to dry your hands.


Story provided by Savannah Pocisk, senior at Miami University and President of Green Oxford. To read more by Pocisk, check out her blog


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