Paper Towels or Hand Dryers: Convenience or Sustainability?

Dickinson College is divided over the replacement of paper towel dispensers with hand dryers in residential buildings. Some students celebrate this decision as an attempt to create a “greener” school and eliminate excess waste produced by paper towels. Others are frustrated with the inefficacy of hand dryers, often walking out of the bathroom shaking their hands dry. 

Kristen Kostecky, Associate Vice President for Campus Operations, said, “Just for clarification, we have not recently replaced paper towel dispensers with hand dryers. That happened a few years ago and only in certain locations. When COVID first came through, we installed the dispensers as initial reports said paper towels were preferred. That has since proven unfounded, and as COVID has waned, we have simply returned to our pre-COVID status.” 

Maddie Ammon ’26, who lives in Adams Hall, one of the buildings where paper towels were removed, said, “I understand that we’re trying to be sustainable, but if I need to dry off my nasty shampoo bottles because there’s no place to put them in the shower except the floor. I don’t want to be using my clean towel I’m drying myself off with.” Ammon raised other concerns about the state of dorm bathrooms as well, such as the lack of hooks for reusable towels, constantly wet sinks, and no storage for extra cloth towels. 

Ammon said, “I would love to have [paper towels] back, because we are such a sustainable school I don’t think students would take advantage of it.”

Multiple students have mentioned a viral TikTok video with 3.6 million likes which shows how hand dryers blow germs back on your hands after washing. In the video by a user named “PhoneSoap,” the creator questions, “How germy is it?” They continue by sticking petri dishes under multiple different hand dryers, letting the experiment grow in an incubator for three days, resulting in “quite a bit of nasty stuff [germs]” in the petri dishes. 

Natalia Uro De Leon ’24, an Eco-Rep who helps promote sustainable lifestyle decisions on campus, said, “It’s sort of a toss up for me. Environmentally, I am so here for hand dryers, but hygienically right now during the pandemic, I do have to lean towards paper towels.”

But, she said, “I feel like it’s a really good effort to make Dickinson holistically sustainable in terms of the way we run our institution. So using energy efficient hand dryers that are also really thorough, because we need to be able to have bathrooms serve as many students as possible…On the other hand too there’s so many other ways we could put that money to use in terms of supporting and funding student run initiatives or programs…I wonder what other ways we could have supported or funded sustainable efforts on campus that might have been a bit more appropriate for the current pandemic situation.”