For the 2015-16 school year, the University is removing paper towels from all residential halls and program houses. This is due to a waste audit conducted during the Spring 2015 semester that revealed that 15% of campus waste streams consisted of paper towels. With the removal of paper towels, the University hopes that both the waste produced by residence halls and the workload of the custodial staff will decrease significantly.
As an alternative, students will be encouraged to bring their own hand towels, for which hooks will be provided in each bathroom. Paper towels will still be provided in kitchens and lounges.
An Eco Facilitator survey of 2014-15 Butterfield residents found that 70% of students used paper towels, while only 20% of them used cloth hand towels. When asked how they would respond to the removal of paper towels, 56% said that they would be upset. However, once asked how they would respond if the paper towels were removed and instead hooks were put in place to hang reusable towels, only 39% of the residents would be upset.
“With the amount of waste reduction that would occur, I really don’t think it’s a big deal to walk down the hall and use a towel,” Paula Tartell ’18, an 2015-2016 Eco Facilitator for the Clark dorms, said.
Last year, Eco Facilitators in the Butterfield A and C dorms audited their residences’ paper towel usage. This was done through a test of three different dorm conditions: leaving the paper towels, providing hand towels and leaving the paper towels, and removing paper towels altogether. Results were measured through the number of paper towel rolls that custodians replaced in the bathrooms.
The audit found that the most effective way to reduce waste in the dorms was to eliminate paper towels altogether, as most students still opted to use paper towels when hand towels were also provided. Following the audit, the Eco Facilitators held focus groups opened to all Butterfield residents to talk about the test results.
“After we realized [eliminating paper towels was the most effective], we ran a couple of focus groups where we were asking how they felt about removing paper towels and if it had a significant impact,” Matt Pelton ’17, an Eco Facilitator for Butterfield A last year, said. “[We found] not many students were passionate about keeping them in the dorms.”
With the results the audit, the group of Eco Facilitators proposed the idea of removing paper towels to the Office of Sustainability, resulting in the paper-towel-free bathroom conditions found in residence halls this year, particularly first-year housing.
The reason for targeting first-year students is to foster sustainable habits in their first year that students will be able to carry throughout their years of college.
“It’s harder to give up paper towels in the dorms when you already had them than it is to come in fresh and not [have] had them,” Pelton said.
Sustainability efforts by first-year students are also encouraged through the Eco Facilitator program, now in its second year. The Eco Facilitators start projects such as the removal of the paper towels in order to increase sustainability in University living spaces.
One concern from the residents of the dorms was that they used paper towels for purposes other than drying their hands in the bathroom.
“Without paper towels, it’ll be hard to clean up other stuff in case of emergencies, like puke or blood,” Timothy Kim ’18, a resident of Butterfield B, said.
However, the Eco Facilitators still see this as a possible hurdle and for this reason paper towels are still available in bathrooms near the lounges, and also in the lounges, laundry rooms, and in the kitchen.
Another question about the paper towel issue raised by some residents was why they decided not to recycle the paper towels used instead of removing them completely.
“Anything used for handling bodily fluids and human contact is not supposed to be recycled,” Pelton said.
Generally, the recyclability of different materials varies, and if paper has food waste or water on it, it is not going to make it through the recycling process.
Similarly, another alternative of placing hand dryers in the dorms, especially the Butterfield dorms, is not feasible due to the lack of electrical infrastructure needed to support hand dryers in the bathrooms.
The Eco Facilitators are optimistic about reducing waste through the removal of paper towels, and they hope to expand efforts to reduce more waste throughout the University.