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Paper towels are out at UC Santa Cruz residence hall bathrooms

Restrooms in the residence halls at the University of California, Santa Cruz, will no longer be stocked with paper towels.

Paper towels, by volume, constitute 34 percent of the waste generated by campus residence halls, the UC Santa Cruz sustainability office says. The school's zero-waste team estimated that residence halls on campus produce 101 tons of paper towel waste every year. Diverting that waste from landfills will help UC Santa Cruz move closer to its goal of becoming a zero-waste campus and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels by 2020.

The sustainability office says the decision to make residence halls paper-towel free came after a successful pilot program at the university's Stevenson College, one of the institution's 10 undergraduate colleges. In the pilot, paper towels were eliminated, and students living in Stevenson residence halls received "People Towels," reusable, eco-friendly hand towels.

The success of the pilot has persuaded the university to expand the paper-towel-free policy to the entire campus.

To be ready for the chnge, the university's housing department provides these recommendations for students: "Along with a bath towel and other supplies, bring several hand towels with you when you arrive on campus. Unless you plan to do laundry very frequently, you'll want to bring several so as to always have a fresh hand towel available. If you have a friend visiting your room, it would be nice to offer them use of a clean hand towel if they need one."

The university explored other alternatives to paper towels, but found they were unsatisfactory. Installing electric air dryer was rejected "because they are too noisy for residential buildings," the housing department says. Hand sanitizers would not provide a suitable alternative to hand washing. "This is not the case," the housing department says. "Properly wetting, soaping, washing and drying your hands is the best means for keeping hand as germ-fee as possible, and does so far more effectively than do sanitizers."

The housing department estimates that because custodians no longer will have to fill towel dispensers and remove paper towel trash, the workers will have enough time to carry out "an extra sanitation each residence hall every day."

Although the new policy might seem inconvenient to some students, the university asserts that the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change outweighs the "momentary convenience" of disposable products.

"You're probably already in the habit of bringing a towel when you're about to take a shower," the housing department says."Remembering to bring a hand towel will perhaps require developing a new habit, but it will be a great habit to adopt."

A survey at the end of the 2012-13 school year found that 80 percent of the students who were part of the Stevenson pilot identified themselves as supportive or neutral about doing without paper towels in residence halls.

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