Climate zone: while some hands on campus are damp, waste has been reduced

Students and staff at the Woodroffe campus do not all have a case of jazz hands: They are flicking their dripping hands and wiping them on their clothing after washing them in the bathrooms. The wet handprints on everyone’s jeans are indicative of valuable savings: savings to the environment, to labour and with money. All […]
Photo: Kerry Slack
Students risk being late for class while taking the time to blow dry their hands. On some machines, it can take more than a minute and a half to get to dry digits.

Students and staff at the Woodroffe campus do not all have a case of jazz hands: They are flicking their dripping hands and wiping them on their clothing after washing them in the bathrooms.

The wet handprints on everyone’s jeans are indicative of valuable savings: savings to the environment, to labour and with money. All three Algonquin College campuses are cutting waste by changing the way we dry our hands.

Paper towels are not recyclable paper which means they were all going to landfills.

At the Woodroffe campus, hand paper towels alone represented 44,200 garbage bags last year that went to landfills.

“The college is not only avoiding costs with less garbage collection but this initiative also supports our goal of reducing waste,” said Ryan Southwood, executive director of Facilities Management on campus.

Costing $44.69 per case, removing paper towels from the campus bathrooms has saved the campus a lot of money.

In 2022 the college spent $190,000 on paper towels and related labour costs.

That’s $96,100 in paper and $ 93,900 in labor-related costs per year at 313 days of campus life.

Additionally, 60 hours per week of labour costs are saved on restocking, removing and replacing garbage bags in the 170 bathrooms on campus. That’s 26 hours removing waste and 34 hours spent replacing paper towels. (Note: all of the previous numbers refer to the Woodroffe campus alone.)

Patrica Thome, supervisor of custodial and grounds operations shared a fun fact:

“The Woodroffe campus was using approximately 2900 kms of paper towel in a year,” said Thome. “That’s the distance from Quebec City to Miami.”

For some, however, there are some downsides to the move away from paper towels.

Reagan Mellan, a second-year culinary management student who has taken her Canada Safe Food Handlers course, understands the importance of proper hand washing and drying.

“We wash our hands every time we walk into the lab anyway but it is a lot more sanitary to use paper towel than a hand dryer,” said Mellan. “When we come through doors we touch them, contaminating our hands again.”

More fun, random numbers – because who doesn’t like random number facts?

Based on this reporter’s informal survey of several older-style hand dryers – the ones with the silver nozzles – at several locations around campus, it takes approximately 45 seconds for one dry cycle. It thus takes three rounds of drying to effectively dry one’s hands.

But replacing the old dryers is not as simple as it seems, explained James Hopkins, associate director of facilities engineering, operations and maintenance. In keeping with the spirit of reducing waste, the old ones still in place won’t be thrown away as long as they are functional.

The cost of replacing the dryers in the older buildings is approximately $1,000 in labour alone. This amount includes the cost of replacing the circuits from the panel. And in the older buildings on campus, the capacity of the electrical panels is lower than it is in the new buildings, hence the older hand dryers.

The Algonquin Times also conducted an informal study where this reporter stood outside three bathrooms on campus and listened to 100 students at each. The findings?

Most students don’t even bother to stop to dry at all.

In the DARE District near the Maker Space, 28 students used hand dryers while 72 did not.

In the B-building near room B165, 24 students used the dryers while 76 did not.

In the ACCE-building near the level one entrance, 38 people dried while 62 did not.

The decision to remove the paper towels comes with big ecological and fiscal savings. So digit-drip seems to be something community members will have to get used to.

Perhaps it’s time to pack a hand towel in our bags?

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