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Green Knowledge + Green Practices = Green Cleaning?

Green Cleaning

Green cleaning is a comprehensive approach to cleaning that combines chemicals, equipment, tools, disposables and most importantly, processes, training and communication to produce an effective and safe cleaning programme. In basic parlance, green cleaning refers to using cleaning methods with environment friendly ingredients and chemicals to preserve human health and environmental quality. Regular chemicals tend to stay on fabrics and even on the walls for months and we keep breathing them long after the cleaning service is over. It is just like sitting next to a smoker 24 hours a day!

Again, most glass cleaners contain glycol ethers that have been shown to cause reproductive effects if exposed to high enough levels. Most air fresheners contain formaldehyde (which is highly toxic and is a known carcinogen) and phenol (a delightful chemical that can cause cold sweats, convulsions, circulatory collapse, coma and even death). Green cleaning techniques and products avoid the use of chemically-reactive and toxic cleaning products which contain various toxic chemicals, some of which emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) causing respiratory and dermatological problems or negatively affect natural resources. Many of these products are also packaged with recycled or reusable materials.

What to look for in green cleaning products

Claims such as “non-toxic,” “eco-safe,” and “environment-friendly” are practically meaningless without a standard in place. Cut through the marketing by looking for specific ingredients that perform effectively in lieu of VOCs, rather than buying into the labels and witty names. For example, look for products that have grain alcohol instead of toxic butyl cellosolve, use borax instead of bleach. Also, look for products that are “petroleum free” and avoid products that include phosphates (such as dishwasher soaps). Any furniture polishes or PVC products that include phtalates should also be avoided. Surfactants like Alkyl Phenol Ethoxylates (APEs) are banned in the European Union and one should ensure it’s not there in any of the products. Similarly, IPA or isopropyl alcohol is not a biodegradable product and hence should not be used in your facility. There are eco-friendly replacements available, simplest being ethyl alcohol or ethanol. Ethyl alcohol is the same alcohol used for making whisky or rum, hence it’s a good solvent. Then there are low VOC solvents which are extracted from lemon peels and in which vaporization is less, known as citrus yerpine, which are eco-friendly.

Above all, one should ask the manufacturer what is the pH (measure of acidity and alkalinity) of the products and what is the biodegradability content of the products one is using. One should ask the supplier to provide some kind of a certificate; it need not be one by an international agency, but by any manufacturer, which can be audited at any given point of time.

Powerful non slurry & non EO-PO surfactants give unmatched cleaning results and are pH Neutral which does not affect the surface unlike traditional formulations. They are also biodegradable and non-irritating to the user. Powerful and biodegradable naturally-derived solvents act as tough grease and stain dissolvers. Unlike petroleum solvents, they do not harm the environment. Biodegradable chelating agents can be used in place of chemicals like EDTA, NTA and Phosphates as they possess superior and naturally-derived chelating for descaling. Organic naturally-derived acids are replacing hazardous inorganic acids. They give equal performance, no fumes and the output is biodegradable. Adjuvants and viscosity modifiers are biodegradable preservatives and naturally-derived thickeners. Quaternary ammonium compounds are safe and powerful surface active sanitizers. They are active on all types of bacteria, fungi and viruses. They are safe as they are used in eye drops, band aid, hand washes, etc. They possess low toxicity as compared to most other sanitizers. They do not affect any kind of surface, in fact, apart from sanitizing, they also help in cleaning the surface.

Green is Sustainable

When eco-friendly cleaning chemicals were first manufactured, they were priced higher than traditional cleaning chemicals. Today, green products do not cost more than the general cleaning products. Increased research and production of eco-friendly cleaning products have brought down the costs.

Taking laundry as an example, high efficiency fabric care system washes all types of linen at low temperatures and low pH. This consumes less steam and in turn helps to save water and electricity. In the same way bleaching is done at a particular pH and temperature that reduces water usage for rinsing. The specially formulated cleaning agents are phosphate free and cause no damage to the environment. They help in reducing the washing process cycle time thereby reducing electricity consumption. This also reduces the load on the ETP.

Green cleaning also minimises the impact on the environment in the following ways:

  • Reduce the consumption of product, packaging and energy by buying effective products and using them efficiently to minimise wastage.
  • Define the task the cleaning products will be used for and buy products which deliver the required performance.
  • Analyse and reduce rework rates. First time cleaning is essential to minimise waste, particularly in energy intensive operations like machine dishwashing, laundry operations, etc.
  • Favor more concentrated products, where applicable.
  • Dilute and use products according to the manufacturer’s instructions using accurate dosing systems where appropriate.
  • Service cleaning equipment regularly, particularly critical items such as dosing pumps for automated machines; train staff, for example using BICSc courses

Healthy High Performance Cleaning

Besides sustainability, green cleaning also offers Healthy High Performance Cleaning (HHPC). The issue of product preferability is not one of ‘good’ new products versus ‘bad’ traditional products. Rather the issue is defined as opportunities to reduce impact on health and environment. In general, HHPC procedures are similar to traditional procedures. The differences are more a matter of focus than technique. With the use of any cleaning chemical or janitorial equipment, it is important that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) be used and product directions followed. Furthermore, proper disposal of all cleaning wastes is required.

One of the primary goals of a Healthy High Performance Cleaning programme is to protect the health of building occupants. This is done in many ways including the identification and removal of harmful contaminants, such as particulates, mold spores, bacteria and viruses. And while the cleaning process can reduce exposure to these and other harmful contaminants, unfortunately, the process of cleaning and the cleaning products themselves can adversely affect the health of building occupants. This is especially true for those who are very sensitive to odours, those with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma and allergies, those with reduced immune systems like people recovering from cancer and those with other health conditions.

HPC is a process that reduces any negative impact of cleaning on health and environment. While product selection is important, procedures for a HHPC programme are equally important.

Anupama Bagri Goel

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