How You Can Wash Your Hands and Save the Planet (At the Same Time)

How You Can Wash Your Hands and Save the Planet (At the Same Time)

| Matthew Arnwine

I was recently perusing the TED archives and stumbled upon a 10-year-old gem by Joe Smith. Joe shows us how to use a single paper towel when washing our hands while he tells us the impact that has on the world. Here’s the gist of it: shake and fold.

For those of you who love a good step by step process, here it is spelled out:

  • Step 1: Wash your hands
  • Step 2: “Shake it off” (Thanks T-Swift). This is critical. Try to shake off as much water as possible. Joe recommends about 12 shakes.
  • Step 3: Grab a single paper towel.
  • Step 4: Fold it, hotdog or hamburger. By folding the paper towel, you create a space between the two halves and take advantage of interstitial suspension which allows you to grab more moisture than with an unfolded towel.
  • Step 5: Dry the remaining moisture off your hands with the folded towel.

Now, you have dry hands coming out of the bathroom and don’t have to awkwardly tell someone you just washed your hands when they are still wet.

Let me guess – right about now you’re asking yourself, “Do we really need a TED talk on how to use a paper towel?” I would give that an enthusiastic yes – because sometimes the best ideas are the simplest; would you really remember this hack if there wasn’t a TED talk?

The genius of it isn’t that you’re using only one paper towel, it’s that it’s an easy way to live life a little more “green.” It’s an action step to “reduce” in the “Reduce, reuse, recycle” adage.

Before you say “it’s just an extra paper towel,” you should know it takes roughly 17 trees and 20,000 gallons of water to create a single roll of paper towels. Each year, we discard 254 millions tons of paper towels. So imagine if we just cut our use in half – say, from two paper towels to one when washing our hands – we would save 6.9 million trees and prevent over 81 billion gallons of water from being polluted.

It’s easy to not see the impact of your actions as a single individual, but adopting easy ideas like this can make a massive collective impact. So next time you’re standing at the sink, I hope this simple phrase sticks with you: shake and fold.