The green cleaning movement has accomplished a lot over the past 20 years. This is especially true relative to the chemicals used for cleaning schools and universities. Today, third-party certifications from Green Seal, EcoLogo/UL and U.S. EPA’s Design for the Environment Program have made it easy to identify high-performing and cost-competitive “green” cleaning chemicals.
Schools and universities have significantly reduced the use of oldfashioned “butyl,” ammoniated and chlorinated cleaners. Gone are the petroleum distillate and chlorinated solvent-based degreasers. Gone are the detergents and antibacterial agents that mimic hormones or, like formaldehyde, are known to cause cancer. Reducing the use of cleaning products based on these ingredients have reduced the risk of harm to cleaning personnel, as well as students and staff.
In addition, schools and universities have replaced aerosols and ready-to-use products with concentrates that can be diluted accurately on site, which have reduced the number of plastic bottles, metal cans and cardboard shipping cartons, and the environmental impacts associated with the manufacture, disposal and recycling of these packaging components.
So what’s next?
Thanks to the success of the green cleaning movement and the maturation of demand for greener products, manufacturers have invested heavily into greener technologies. In addition to chemical manufacturers, equipment manufacturers also have entered the market, as well as manufacturers from other industries such as food processing, water and waste treatment.
Among the most interesting new technologies are devices that electrolyze, ionize, ozonate or super-heat (steam) water, creating an effective cleaning solution. Some have product solutions that are effective as sanitizers and disinfectants.
Although current technologies appear to be limited at this time for cleaning light and medium soils found in daily cleaning requirements, it is predicted that it won’t be long before the technologies can be used on an even greater number of soils. Plus, the rapid advancement of these technologies and the competition among manufacturers have resulted in the cost of these devices falling rapidly.
The major benefit of these devices appears to be less focused on reducing the risk of harm to worker and occupant health; rather, the main benefit appears to be the reduced impacts on the environment.
A large university or school district can eliminate hundreds, if not thousands of plastic bottles and metal cans. These packaging items are relatively easy to recycle, but new technologies significantly reduce the environmental impacts from extracting the petroleum or natural gas used to make the plastic bottles and mining used to make metal cans. The devices significantly reduce the energy, water and waste from the manufacturers who turn the raw materials into basic ingredients, along with those who turn the ingredients into a properly formulated cleaning product.
Collectively, schools and universities along with other institutional and commercial buildings could eliminate an estimated 25 to 50 million plastic bottles, pails and drums; metal cans and cardboard shipping cartons.
It appears clear that this is the future for cleaning chemicals. Both the Healthy Schools Campaign in its Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools and the U.S. Green Building Council in its LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) recognize the benefits of these new devices.
Thus in 2014, schools and universities are encouraged to test these devices. Keep in mind that there are a number of technologies to explore, and it is important to find ones that work most efficiently with current cleaning procedures. In the end, they will help maintain a clean, safe and healthful building while reducing impacts on the environment and saving money.