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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.



Staff member dodges locomotive to get the perfect shot

OncomingDesigner/photographer Josh McLaughlin recently put himself in harm’s way to snap this gorgeous color photograph of a vintage Norfolk Southern steam locomotive (subsequently featured on the front page of the Lakewood Observer).

As the steam engine passed through Lakewood on May 12, Josh crept up to the tracks and snapped away at the oncoming train with two cameras, capturing color and black-and-white images along with a peppering of soot from the coal car.

He says it was a small price to pay to get the pictures he wanted: large-scale color to convey the size and power of the engine, and monochrome closeups of the wheels and gears to illustrate its complexity.*


Big dramatic events are obvious attractions for shutterbugs, but Josh also keeps an eye out for things of interest in his everyday travels.

“I run and bike, so I have plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view,” he says. “Many times after a long run I grab my camera and hike back to the place I just traveled to get a shot of something that caught my eye.”

flowerJosh’s two young daughters, as they progress through childhood, have been frequent subjects of his photos. In fact, family has been his inspiration from the start.

“I became interested in photography at an early age thanks to my grandfather,” Josh explains. “He always had a camera and would take pictures of anyone and anything. He was great at getting people to smile and that’s what showed me the way.”

He shares his grandfather’s passion too.

“I have shot a wide range of photography over the past 15 years, professionally as well as personally, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I enjoy the unique challenges that each product, portrait or fine art piece entails.”

rainbow mist
* The b/w locomotive image was taken from about 6-8 feet away from the moving train. Don’t try this at home.

How Amy designed a charming book cover

Amy Wessel, a graphic designer on our staff, recently had the opportunity to put her skills to work designing the cover for a self-published book by a local author, Mary Kay Mayer.

The book – entitled From Diapers to Dresses: How a mother’s past helped to shape her daughters’ futures – chronicles how the author used her grandmother’s folk wisdom to guide her parenting decisions and to convey important life lessons to her three daughters.

Amy describes her experience with the project:

Mary knew from the start that she wanted the main focus of the cover to be a dress that her grandmother had made for her. So I developed several ideas that centered around the dress and Mary chose the one she liked best.

Along the way, we discussed incorporating additional prop items and personal photographs into the layout, but in the end we decided to keep it simple and just use the dress.

Mary liked the idea of using an illustration rather than a photograph of the dress. As the book is intended for moms, not children, I was concerned about any illustration that appeared too “childlike.” So I used a combination of photography, hand illustration and Photoshop brush techniques to produce an image that has a childlike quality but is still firmly rooted in reality.

The background colors were chosen to complement the colors of the dress. The font combination was chosen to convey a whimsical yet sophisticated feeling.

The book is available at here.

It was supposed to be a simple job. It quickly became silly.

Does your job ever put you in ridiculous situations?

The following is a true story of unbelievably bad luck…

5:15 p.m. –– Creative Director Scott Camarati and I pull into the parking lot of a nearby home improvement store. It’s practically empty because of a snowstorm.

A client has given us a last-minute emergency assignment: Design a better layout for arranging their products on this retailer’s shelves.

They need it for a meeting.

The next day.

No pressure there.

So we plow our way to the store to document where each product already is.   (A painstaking but necessary first step.)

The problem: Store managers get nervous with people making notes and taking photos in their store, even if you explain your good intentions.

So tonight we’re going straight to Plan B:

  1. Walk in real casual like.
  2. Get the info.
  3. Get the heck outta there.

A store full of customers is best for this. They keep the employees busy and make it easier for us to “blend in.”

But not tonight.

The store is practically deserted. The sales staff is gonna swarm us like vultures on roadkill.

Entering the store we give a polite brush-off to the greeter without breaking stride. One down.

Halfway to our aisle a second salesperson asks. We keep walking, smile and say we know what we need, thanks.

Moments later a third employee approaches, but we outrun her and she eventually gives up the chase.

For the moment we’re in the clear. There’s no one – employee or customer – between us and Aisle 32. Encouraged, we pick up the pace, turn the corner…

… and come to a screeching halt.

There stands a lone customer, right where we need to work.

[Okay, I know this is a long post, but you’re enjoying it, right? Hello?]

He’s the only customer in the entire building as far as we can tell. A kindly-looking, silver-haired gentleman of at least 80.

I’m not a mathematician, but I’ll bet the odds of us encountering someone at that exact spot – at the exact moment ­– in the middle of a blizzard – are pretty slim. You probably stand a better chance of spotting Bigfoot in Parma.

Yet there he is.

And from what we’re seeing he’s not going anywhere, anytime soon.

Struggling to maintain our composure as precious minutes tick by, we watch as he slowly – thoroughly – scrutinizes a package in his hands…

…then puts it back

…then carefully examines another

…then compares the two.

In the time it’s taking him to decide between Products A and B, they could have unearthed Tut’s tomb.

I begin to feel a throbbing over my right eye, the kind that signals my BP is exceeding the healthy range.

By contrast, the old man has long ago dispensed with any sense or urgency, or any concept of time for that matter. He proceeds at a reptilian pace, as though caught in a molasses-like time dimension. (Shatner grappled with something similar in episode 66.)

The minutes drag painfully on. We have no choice but to stand there in a cold, desperate sweat…and wait.

(NOTE TO SELF: Pick a happier topic next time. This one’s forcing you to re-live the horror.)

Hold it…did he?…YES!! The guy moved! He moved!

Granted, it’s a mere two feet to the right – and he did it so slowly we almost didn’t notice – but it gives us access to at least a portion of what we need.

Finally, some progress!

The joy is short-lived. After quickly gathering all the info available in that limited space, we take a step back to catch our breath.

And find ourselves once again at a dead stop.

The old gentleman has either fallen asleep with his eyes open or is utterly transfixed by the array of products before him. Either way, he’s essentially inanimate. (I’ve seen mannequins with more mojo.) And he is single-handedly turning our project into an all-nighter.

For half a second I entertain the notion of commandeering a forklift and seeing if I can move him to the lumber section without anyone noticing.

Instead, we take a quick lap around the store, vainly hoping the old fellow will be gone when we get back.

He doesn’t budge an inch. I swear to heaven, not one inch.

We take another lap (rejecting renewed offers of assistance from employees). This time – cue the angel choir – a miracle of sorts greets us upon our return: The silver scrutinizer has finally sauntered away.

Thank you, Jesus.

[And thank you, kind reader, for wading through this insanely long post.]

But now a new threat is looming: a little old lady* lingering nearby with a shopping cart. (What are all these old folks doing out in a snowstorm?)

There’s no time to lose. Working row by row, Scott calls out package part numbers and I feverishly jot them down, trying to keep up without making a mistake.

Meanwhile, the little old lady meanders in and out of my peripheral vision. I try to ignore the distraction. If I write down these part numbers in the wrong order it’ll be a problem later.

Eventually we manage to gather all the data we need and even snap a few photos for reference. It’s going to be a long night, but at least Step One is accomplished.

We start to hustle out of the aisle so we can race back to the office and try to make up for lost time.

“Excuse me, could you help me?” the little old lady asks as we’re about to walk past her.

No way. This can’t be happening.

We stop. She begins to question us about a faucet display on a nearby wall. We realize she has mistaken us for employees because she saw us counting products.

We tell her we don’t work there. Undaunted, she continues pumping us for information about features and benefits.

I feel the blood pressure thing happening again.

Then suddenly…

…out of nowhere, salvation appears: an employee. One of the folks we’ve been trying to dodge for the last hour.

“This lady has some questions,” we say, handing her off to the befuddled young man and backing quickly away before breaking into a sprint.

Moments later, safely back out in the snowy parking lot we heave a sigh of relief. We have the information to complete our project, but we’ve paid for it in stomach acid.

It was as though the gods of retail marketing had conspired to throw wacky obstacles in our way. We’re pretty sure some deity, somewhere, had enjoyed a good laugh at our expense.

Fine. You wanna play that game? Bring it on. There are plenty of big box stores around. If we can’t get what we need in one we’ll just move on to the next.

The gods can’t plant doddering shoppers in all of them.

* Her presence, and that of the gentleman, provide irrefutable proof that Buicks are good in the snow.