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Everything's Going Green

Everett Childers |

Over the past few months and years, many retailers have been trying to convince the public that they are “green,” or friendly to the planet. This trend is familiar to drycleaners.
In the industry, it began with the question of whether or not perchloroethylene is a cancer-causing substance. Now and for more than 20 years, the federal government and environmentalists have kept the turmoil going. At the same time, industry associations have struggled to counter the bad publicity and still defend the use of perc.
The situation prompted some companies to develop alternative solvent systems including two high-flashpoint hydrocarbons, GreenEarth, liquid CO2 and DrySolv. Only time will tell what we will finally be able to call the “best” solvent—if there is one. Alongside these solvents, wetcleaning is winning more converts not as a replacement, but an additional process that can clean up to 50% of the garments typically serviced by drycleaners.
Meanwhile, the organic sections of grocery stores tout organic lettuce, carrots, rolled oats, rice and cheese. Every aisle seems to feature “organic” products, even household cleaners, toilet paper, eggs, meat and other staples. “Natural” foods aisles urge you to buy gluten-free cake mixes, buffalo meat, soy butternut cream and yogurt.
“Paper or plastic?” the clerks ask when you carry your prized purchases home—or perhaps you’d like one of their reusable cloth bags. Supermarkets even host cholesterol screenings between the bakery counters and the ice-cream-and-pizza freezers.
Appliances are rated by energy efficiency and high-definition televisions are listed according to recyclable content. Lawnmowers are under scrutiny for producing too much CO2 emissions and noise. Did the paranoia begin with Al Gore’s contention that the earth is heating up? Will we be crispy critters unless we change our ways?
The world is changing, and we can change with it, or joust with windmills. If we wish to keep up with the times, we must do more than buy a banner saying that the business is organic, green and gluten-free. In order to become a responsible, “green” cleaner, we need to take a good look at the public perception of drycleaners.
Drycleaning does not have a good reputation. Part of it is that the media has exploited the industry selectively with mystery shoppers and “gotcha” reports. And the reputation is tainted further by unprofessional cleaners.
In order to be good stewards of the environment, operators need to reduce the use of toxic and hazardous chemicals. We need to learn to use alternative solvents and spotting agents that are just as effective and perhaps easier and safer.
We’ll need to learn basic chemistry and give up antiquated practices. We may even need to buy a new drycleaning machine and update our finishing equipment. You should at least try tensioning equipment.
Plant necessities such as steam boilers should be updated or tuned for efficiency. Steam lines should be insulated. And using energy-efficient lighting will go a long way toward reducing energy costs.
There is a company that sells biodegradable poly. There are nontoxic, nonhazardous spotting products that can go right down the drain. There are baggers that cut bags to the correct length to avoid waste. “Greener” products are out there, and many work as good as or better than what we’ve always used. In the future, we may use reusable cloth bags for transport.
It won’t do you, your business or the industry any good to post a banner saying you’re “greener” than the rest, or run ads pointing out a competitor’s mistakes. People will get the two of you confused and assume you’re a bad steward, too.
Instead of buying a bogus banner, upgrade your plant and procedures to reduce your environmental footprint. When you do, you’ll be helping yourself to a more efficient and cost-conscious plant.

About the author

Everett Childers

Childers & Associates

Industry Consultant and Educator

Longtime industry consultant and educator Everett Childers is the author of the Master Drycleaners Notebook.

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