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The Sound of Science
WNIJ and NIU STEAM are partnering to create “The Sound of Science,” a weekly series explaining important science, technology, engineering and math concepts using sound. The feature will air at 1:04 p.m. Fridays as a lead-in to Science Friday.The Sound of Science is made possible by Ken Spears Construction

The Sound of Science - 'Hand-Dryers vs. Paper Towels'

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The Sound of Science

Our very own STEAM squad from NIU clean up the facts surrounding ecological solutions for personal hygene.

Jasmine: Hi, I'm Jasmine.

Chrissy: And I'm Chrissy.

Jasmine: We're from NIU STEAM...

Chrissy: And this is The Sound of Science on WNIJ. Cheryl from Wisconsin asks, "So we know hygienically which one is better, but if we are looking at environmental impacts, which is better to use: paper hand towels or the electric hand dryers?"

Jasmine: This is a great question and with Earth Day only two-weeks away, it is very timely. When talking about environmental impacts and sustainability of products, we must investigate a few areas: the impacts of manufacturing the products, transportation of the products, the impacts of the product usage, and future product disposal.

Chrissy: With that said, hand dryers impact the environment with their use of metal and plastic materials in their manufacture, shipping them to both the supplier and the installation
location, and general usage. However, the average hand dryer lasts between 7 and 10 years. The biggest toll that the hand dryer takes on the environment is the electricity required to run it. The amount of carbon emissions that are generated, though, depends
on the type of dryer that is being used.

Jasmine: Older models of dryers use hot air and less efficient motors that have to "spin up" and "spin down." The newest models use materials that are more efficient to produce and cool air that is forced out of the machine at a higher velocity which cuts down dry time. The motors are far more efficient resulting in less wasted motion requiring power.

Chrissy: Paper towels are usually single use which produces a good deal of waste both for the landfills and within the facility where they are being used. The production of paper towels
is also much more intensive when it comes to the energy expended, waste generated, and pollution given off. One could argue that hand dryers are also responsible for the same impact, but do not create the same volume as they don't need to be replaced as often.

Jasmine: Something else to consider is that when we dispose of paper towels, once they have been used, we throw them away in a plastic bag. So one might include the manufacture, use, and disposal of the plastic bag as part of the total cost the paper towels might have on our environment.

Chrissy: You have been listening to The Sound of Science on WNIJ, where you learn something new every day.

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