archive for January, 2015

The Hidden Costs of Paper Towel Misuse

The following is presented as a public service message.

The photo below shows a typical stack of “multi-fold” paper towels.













As you can see in the next photo, each sheet in a stack is folded and arranged to interlock with the next sheet so that pulling on one begins to unfold and extend the next.













This allows the towels to be conveniently pulled from a dispenser, one sheet at a time, for maximum efficiency and hygiene benefits.













Nevertheless, despite these proven advantages, a full grasp of the function and proper use of multi-fold towels remains elusive in some quarters of corporate America…


It is not uncommon to see a stack of multi-fold towels positioned incorrectly (i.e., upside-down) within the dispenser. This is unfortunate, as it requires the user to employ the clumsy dig-and-pinch method, as shown here…











…followed by a side-pull extraction, the results of which can range from tearing the towel to inadvertently dispensing multiple sheets, creating unnecessary waste (and hastening the destruction of the planet).











Plus, it leaves an unsightly mess like the one here.

Unsightly mess resulting from side-pull extraction

Unsightly mess resulting from side-pull extraction











Nor is mess the only problem. Left unaddressed, a dispenser in the condition described above will become empty more quickly, requiring a premature refill.


Researchers recently discovered, to their surprise, that not every person encountering an empty multi-fold towel dispenser will avail him- or herself of the opportunity to refill it.

Among their findings:

1. A small percentage of bathroom patrons may retrieve a handful of replacement multi-fold towels from nearby. Upon returning, however, most members of this group will put the towels on the sink rather than attempt to install them in the dispenser. (The resulting problems from this are described further down.)

2. The majority (73.7%) will simply wipe their hands on their pants and walk out.

Questioning of participants revealed that the decision not to refill is influenced by any of several factors:

  • lack of familiarity with location of refill bundles
  • fear of incorrectly loading the dispenser
  • difficulty locating the dispenser latch key lying in plain sight
  • time pressures
  • cultural issues, or
  • disparities in knowledge regarding corporate restroom users’ rights and responsibilities.*

* See related post on leaving empty toilet paper rolls on the spool.

Regardless of the reason, the practice of placing multi-fold towels on the sink rather than in the dispenser is one that should be actively discouraged by managers, as it negates the towels’ efficiency in two distinct ways:

First, it exposes the towels to splashing, which can quickly render an entire stack useless for the next patron.


These towels’ close proximity to a source of splashing may cause them to become wet, negating their effectiveness.











It also creates the potential for finger-drip water damage. While not as destructive as splashing, finger-drip water still accounts for nearly 20% of towel waste.

This stack of paper towels is exhibiting clear signs of finger-drip damage.

This stack of paper towels is exhibiting clear signs of finger-drip damage.














This level of avoidable waste can have a seriously detrimental impact on any company striving to shrink its carbon footprint and heighten sustainability.

In conclusion, it behooves each manager to integrate into their best practices a training course (or at the very least a module) on the engineering, purpose and optimal usage of multi-fold towels. We urge you to work with your Sustainability Officer or Team to develop a long-term plan for addressing this crucial issue.


Thank you.