The need for green cleaning. Commercial Cleaning is all about sanitising, disinfecting, and making things sparkling clean and hygienic. It’s difficult to associate these activities with climate change and yet with cleaning in Europe employing around 4.4 million people, this huge industry is damaging our planet and will have to make some big changes to play its part in securing a greener future for the next generations. Adopting green cleaning practices sooner rather than later is the key to reducing environmental damage caused by the cleaning industry.
Another international COP climate change conference has just closed. It brought world leaders together to try and agree on strategies to tackle the immediate dangers presented by climate change. Most agree that some progress was made although activist Greta Thunberg described it as “more blah blah.”
Studies have also shown that many cleaning products are hazardous to health. So how is the cleaning industry contributing to health issues, climate change and pollution? What do commercial cleaning companies in Europe need to do to begin adopting healthier and more environmentally friendly cleaning practices?
The Problem with Cleaning
Cleaning removes dust, allergens, and germs from our indoor environment but in return, the industry as a whole is polluting our outdoor environment. It contributes to climate change and in many cases, damages the health of staff working within the industry.
Cleaning and Water Pollution
Have you ever stopped to consider what happens to all of the chemicals used in cleaning products? When you rinse a sink, flush a toilet, or empty a mop bucket down the drain, where are those chlorinates, ammonia, acids, and other chemicals going to end up?
Although water treatment plants successfully remove many chemicals from waste and sewage water, it is by no means all. On top of that, in many parts of the world, the regulatory framework for dumping untreated water is either non-existent or ignored.
Thousands of chemicals from cleaning products are washed out into streams, rivers and even directly into our oceans every single day. They represent not just a danger to wildlife, but also to human beings. Some of these chemicals persist in the environment, and when untreated, in many cases eventually enter the food chain where they are then consumed by unsuspecting people right across society.
Cleaning and Air Pollution
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are chemicals released into the atmosphere by everyday cleaning products that include:
- Bleach and detergents
- Air fresheners
- Spray cleaners
- Fabric softeners and conditioners
Some of these compounds are known to be harmful to health. Not only are they released inside the home or commercial premises during use, but roadside studies have shown that they also make their way outside into the atmosphere and mix with other chemicals to contribute to smog and low-level ozone that can cause breathing problems, cancer, and heart disease.
If you add into that, the air pollution caused by transporting these products using the UK and European road networks, it is plain to see that the cleaning industry is making a substantial contribution to air pollution.
Cleaning and Plastic Waste
The cleaning industry makes a very large contribution to the problem of plastic waste that is slowly choking our ecosystem. Many cleaning products are sold in single-use plastic bottles and other packaging not made from recyclable materials. This often ends up in landfill sites and even finds its way into rivers and oceans. Transportation and disposal of the non-recyclable packaging and empty bottles associated with the cleaning industry are taking their toll on the environment
Cleaning and Long-Term Health
The recent pandemic has shown how important it is to keep homes and workplaces sanitised and reduce the spread of bacterial and viral infections. Not only that, but people feel better about coming to work in a clean environment. It enhances productivity and reduces the level of sickness absence.
Unfortunately, the very act of keeping a workplace clean and free from germs can actually present health hazards for the people working there. Some of the most effective cleaning products are also the most dangerous. Spray cleaning products are particularly hazardous.
A study in the US concluded that cleaning staff in regular direct exposure to these products were at most risk. The study found that around 6% of janitorial staff experienced adverse symptoms from exposure to harmful chemicals in cleaning products.
Harmful Ingredients in Cleaning Products
|Chemical||Found in||Harmful Effects|
|Ammonia||Polishes and glass cleaners||Damage to lungs, mucous membranes, and cardiovascular system|
|Perchloroethylene (PERC)||Fabric and Carpet Cleaners||Cancers and neurological problems|
|Formaldehyde||Heavy Duty Cleaners||Neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)|
|2-Butoxyethanol||Multi-purpose cleaners and window sprays||Liver and kidney damage|
|Chlorine||Laundry whiteners, toilet cleaners||Thyroid problems|
The above table is not a complete list of the harmful ingredients that can be found in some cleaning products. It does, however, highlight some of the main culprits to watch out for.
But let’s now take a look at how some fundamental and yet reasonably easy changes could eliminate much of the damage caused by the cleaning industry.
The Solution – Safe, Green, Eco-friendly Cleaning
Commercial cleaning in Europe has already begun to move towards safer, green cleaning practices. Many of the more responsible contractors are beginning to take green cleaning very seriously.
But what does this actually mean and how can the cleaning industry change its way of working to become more environmentally and health-friendly?
Reducing or Eliminating Harmful Chemicals in Cleaning Products
Moving to more eco-friendly products is being helped along by the EU regulatory framework. This requires that at least 50% of products used for commercial cleaning services should hold the EU Ecolabel certification.
What is the EU Ecolabel?
The EU Ecolabel is awarded to products and services meeting the highest of environmental standards. A service or product that achieves EU Ecolabel certification meets the criteria to be classed as lowering environmental impact. In developing the product or service consideration has been given to producing less waste and increasing recyclability
How Can Contract Cleaning Companies Become Greener?
Cleaning companies have a duty of care both in terms of the health of their employees and also in taking steps to minimise the way their activities are affecting the environment. There are many ways that the commercial cleaning industry can contribute to a global effort to clean up the planet and improve health.
Letting go of some of the myths and established practices that cloud the industry can certainly help. For example; an environment does not necessarily have to smell clean and disinfected in order to actually be clean and disinfected. In fact, products that leave a smell in the air are more likely to be harmful to health and the environment than those that don’t.
CIE offers a full range of green cleaning services designed to promote greener cleaning across Europe.
Here are some of the things that leaders and business owners can start to consider in terms of lowing the environmental impact of the cleaning industry.
1. Use of Biological Cleaning Products
Biological cleaning products use a live solution of biodegradable surfactants, water, and 100% safe and natural bacteria. The bacteria work to degrade oils, fats and grease when applied to a surface. At the same time, they produce oxygen and other natural compounds. Unlike their petrochemical cousins that have been in common use for decades, they are not harmful to human health nor toxic to the planet.
2. Use of Water-Based Cleaning Products
Many cleaning companies could save themselves a fortune on cleaning products and at the same time conserve the environment. Commercial water-based cleaning products may not necessarily be free from all harmful chemicals, but there’s quite a difference between a cleaner with water as the main ingredient and one that uses petroleum distillates. With water as the base carrier, there is an immediate head start.
What you should be looking for in a water-based cleaner is natural acidic compounds rather than toxic chemicals. These might include citric acid and acetic acid that you’ll find in lemon juice and vinegar, respectively. Vinegar mixed with water becomes an excellent glass cleaner.
3. Green Cleaning with Bicarbonate of Soda
Another everyday product that has a great many uses as a green cleaner is sodium bicarbonate. You may know it as baking soda. This is an inexpensive and readily available biodegradable product that can be adapted to suit many commercial cleaning tasks.
When mixed into a paste by using 3 parts bicarbonate of soda to 1 part warm water it can be applied to stubborn stains, used as an oven and stove cleaner, and even be used for cleaning grout in between tiles.
For the tough job of unblocking sink drains pour half a cup each of baking soda and white vinegar into the drain and allow the reaction to take place. After 15 minutes of fizzing rinse down with a kettle of boiling water.
Added to a machine wash, baking soda acts as a natural deodorizer, cleaner, and fabric softener. It helps to remove tough smells and stains from clothing and return the whiteness to whites.
4. Use of Cleaning Products in Soluble Form.
Beyond the use of eco-friendly ingredients, there is another very important way that the cleaning industry can help preserve the environment. Much of the pollution caused by the cleaning industry centres around the environmental costs of distribution. Considering that water is the main ingredient in a lot of these cleaning products would it not make sense to buy them in soluble form and add water yourself?
Many commercial cleaning products are available in a tablet or sachet form that companies can make up themselves by adding water as and when the products are needed. This reduces the weight and the amount of storage space needed and therefore the environmental impact of distribution. A single truck can transport many multiples more of a product when in soluble form than if the water had already been added.
5. Reducing Single Use Plastic
Tackling the environmental impact of our use of plastic has never been more urgent. In many ways, this goes hand in glove with using cleaning supplies that can be delivered in soluble form. With a supply of re-usable spray bottles and other dispensers, companies can not only rehydrate their own cleaning supplies, but they can also distribute them to cleaning teams in their own re-usable dispensers.
Further uptake on this practice would make a significant reduction in the use of plastic within the cleaning industry. The use of plastic could easily be discouraged through a regulatory framework.
6. Using Microfibre
Microfibre is an excellent material for use in the commercial cleaning industry. It is a blend of polyester and nylon that has more than 200,000 fibres in every square inch. A positive electrical charge is carried by the nylon which in turn attracts dust and dirt much like a magnet. The result is that cleaning is much more thorough and requires less in the way of water and chemicals.
Using microfibre ensures that particulates are not redistributed into the air with the potential to be breathed in or contaminate. Instead, they are contained within the cloth. The same applies when using microfibre mops for floor cleaning.
Green cleaning is achieved because microfibre uses between 10 and 30 times less liquid depending on the application.
There are huge benefits for cleaning in healthcare settings too. A study in the U.S. carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that extremely fine .38 micrometer in diameter microfibre removes up to 98 percent of bacteria and 93 percent of viruses from surfaces using water with no added chemicals or detergents.
Cleaning companies that care about the environment should be adopting microfibre for cleaning applications like:
Wet and dry scrubbing
Adopting Technology for Chemical-Free Green Cleaning Solutions
1. Low Moisture Steam for Environmentally Friendly Cleaning
Water is a remarkable cleaner that when converted to steam, requires no added chemicals to cut through all sorts of grime and pollutants. Steam cleaning is nothing new but the technology that utilises steam cleaning has come a long way.
Cleaning contractors in Europe are utilising Industrial Dry Steam Cleaners that use the cleaning power of low moisture/high-temperature steam for a range of cleaning applications. Particularly effective in industrial environments superheated dry steam works well in cleaning conveyor belt-driven production lines, food processing equipment, and all types of industrial machinery.
These advanced steam cleaning systems are excellent at dealing with grease, fats, oil, and dirt but can also protect human health by eliminating viruses, bacteria, and fungi that cause mould and mildew.
Surfaces from hard flooring through to fabrics and soft furnishings can all be cleaned using low moisture steam cleaning technologies and still be left dry enough for almost immediate use.
2. UV Light Cleaning Systems
Germicidal ultraviolet technology is so effective that it is now being used in hospitals for high-level deep cleaning, disinfection, and inhibiting the spread of infection. Use has begun to spread as the technology is adopted by cleaning companies as a way of disinfecting large areas quickly and effectively.
UV light helps you to penetrate and clean those hard to reach areas and sensitive electrical devices in a way that simply cannot be achieved by hand-held cleaning cloths
The technology uses no harmful chemicals but wholesale use should only be carried out by trained cleaning professionals using professional-grade equipment in a controlled environment. Prolonged exposure to UV light can present a health risk.
It`s Never Too Late to Start Green Cleaning
Green cleaning is about eliminating the use of harmful chemicals, reducing risks to health, cutting the use of precious water supplies, and stopping the release of harmful emissions.
Working out of local offices in towns and cities around Europe and in the UK, CIE is a leading commercial cleaning contractor with a focus on environmentally friendly cleaning. If you are interested in knowing more about how CIE can use green cleaning to reduce the impact that your business has on the environment, why not read more about the specialist Green Cleaning services offered by CIE?
If you would like to book a free workplace cleaning assessment please do not hesitate to use our Contact Page to get in touch. One of our expert cleaning consultants will get straight back to you.