On top of that, they need to be constantly replaced and thrown away - in 2011 used paper towels accounted for a whopping 2% of total landfill contents in the US.
We appreciate 2% doesn't sound like a "whopping" figure, but it represents about five million tons of discarded paper towels.
A good energy-efficient hand dryer, on the other hand, keeps the cost of running a public space down.
Note: the hand-dryer introduced in this article may not be available in our catalogue today, but here are the hand dryers available.
But the initial expense is much higher than a pack of paper towels - what, exactly, are architects and designers paying for when they buy an eco-friendly hand dryer?
Sustainable Design for an Everyday ApplianceIt's something we hardly ever think about - but we all need hand dryers, don't we? Without going into too much detail, we all wash our hands in the bathroom after we use it.
And in a mid-sized to large public space, there are a lot of public bathrooms. Which means a lot of hand dryers.
Which in turn means a great deal of carbon emissions, not to mention a great deal of cost.
So how are manufacturers trying to reduce the impact of all that energy usage?
The most obvious way to reduce energy demands is to design a product so it consumes energy over a shorter period of time - only when it's needed.
So modern automatic hand dryers have convenient "no-touch" sensors that activate the heat and air when hands are placed near it - usually underneath the vent.
This has the added benefit of protecting us from bacteria - there's no button to be pressed by a lot of people every day.
A higher airflow also means that hands are dried faster, so that sensor is active for less time. In terms of design, this can mean a smaller vent size that increases the speed of the air moving through it, or a higher Specific Fan Power (SFP) rating.
And then when hands are taken away from the sensor, the heat element is isolated as soon as possible.
A Low-Cost but Highly Energy-Efficient Hand DryerThe trouble is, high-end items like the Dyson Airblade and its many (many) copycats cost up to £1000, which can offset those savings significantly.
Besides, they're incredibly noisy - and in, say, an office space, that can pose a real problem.
The HD900W is a high-pressure hand dryer that implements some of the sustainable design principles outlined here.
It promises to dry hands in 12-15 seconds, with a fan speed of 90 metres per second, and for half the wattage of equivalent hand dryers in the store.
It incorporates an IR sensor with a cut-off switch at the 1-minute mark, and deactivates within one second.
But it doesn't come with the price tag usually associated with eco-conscious design!
The initial investment won't be such a dent on the finances, and the lifetime running costs are significantly lower.
For public spaces like museums and office buildings, the choice is more than clear.