Blog: The Environmental Cost of Cleaning

By: Matt Hayas, Global Product Manager, Hydro Systems

Environmental responsibility has been an issue of growing importance and focus for organizations across the globe, and COVID-19 has only heightened concerns about the planet. In fact, a recent study revealed 72% of consumers ranked companies behaving sustainably more important to them due to the pandemic. With health and safety measures top of mind for both businesses and consumers, it’s critical for facilities to utilize tools and resources that enhance cleanliness but don’t contribute to environmental waste.

Being mindful of how resources are being used while cleaning can have a huge impact on corporate sustainability. Even after the pandemic, it will be important for organizations to evaluate their cleaning efforts and programs to reduce the environmental damage caused by COVID-19.


Cleaning’s Impact on the Planet

Cleaning helps ensure public health and safety, but some processes can negatively impact the environment. The act of cleaning can result in:


  • Plastic waste – According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), half of the 300 million tons of plastic produced each year are for single-use items, and only 9% of all plastic is recycled. Cleaning processes use large volumes of chemicals that contribute to plastic bottle waste, which often end up in landfills and incinerators. Additionally, many cleaning tools are constructed from plastic, such as mops, mop buckets, toilet brushes and brooms.


  • Water usage – Cleaning and disinfecting require water, which can result in waste if it’s not properly measured. For example, one study showed that mopping restroom floors uses roughly 1 gallon of water for every 164 square feet. Moreover, filling auto scrubbers, washing dishes and cleaning textiles also relies on significant water usage.


  • Chemical usage – During the pandemic, organizations increased cleaning frequencies, thereby driving up the volume of chemicals used. Some cleaning chemicals and disinfectants can pose disposal, storage and handling issues, which can negatively impact the environment and users. Ready-to-use chemicals contain a high volume of water, which makes them heavy and expensive to transport. Using chemical concentrates eliminates the need to ship water, saves freight and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. When diluting chemical, it’s critical that facilities use an effective dispensing system to reduce chemical and water waste, ensuring proper dilution with every use.


For the highlighted sentence can we make this read more around ready to use chemical?  I’d like to get the point across that shipping the water in ready to use products is a big transportation issue.  Using concentrates eliminates the need to ship the water.


  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Throughout the pandemic, single-use PPE has been one of the biggest contributors to environmental waste. In fact, an estimated 129 billion face masks and 65 billion latex gloves have been used each month since the onset of COVID-19, the amount that is typically used per year. Cleaning professionals have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, resulting in more PPE use than pre-pandemic circumstances.


  • Cleaning cloths – Cleaning staff often use microfiber cloths and single-use disinfectant wipes to effectively clean surfaces and remove pathogens. Although textiles can be reused, enhanced cleaning efforts contribute to more frequent wash cycles, which results in increased water, chemical and energy use. It can also quickly reduce the lifespan of textiles, adding to landfill waste.


Sustainable Practices for your Operation

Understanding how your cleaning practices impact the environment is only the first step. It’s important to implement or frequently update your sustainable efforts to further minimize the amount of waste generated through cleaning. Consider the following best practices:


  • Live by the label – To maximize cleaning performance and achieve a product’s claims, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If a chemical isn’t properly diluted or left on a surface for the instructed dwell time, surfaces may need to be recleaned. This results in wasted water and chemical, as well as extra time, which drives up the cost of labor.


  • Install chemical dispensers – Implementing chemical dispensers can help make your cleaning program greener and more efficient. Dispensers reduce chemical waste by diluting and dispensing chemicals accurately into spray bottles, mop buckets and floor care machines. In fact, according to the Dispensing Equipment Alliance (DEA), a chemical dispensing system can save up to 99.9% of packaging waste compared to ready-to-use products (RTU). In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, chemical dispensers help make cleaning a simpler, safer and more precise process.


  • Rely on high-quality equipment – Invest in equipment and tools made from materials that can withstand daily use and go years without replacement. This can help limit your cleaning program’s impact on the environment by reducing landfill waste as well as your equipment expenses.


A New Era of Responsibility

Moving forward, cleaning operations will need to be more conscious of their environmental impact and take steps to limit waste. While the pandemic has made this more difficult, innovative solutions and technology can help reduce the need for single-use products while still maintaining clean and safe spaces. By implementing equipment like chemical dispensers, facilities can help their cleaning programs meet enhanced standards while being mindful of the environment.

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