Dry Cleaning and Sustainability

Dry cleaning businesses need to be eco friendly and sustainable in order to prosper in today’s rapidly evolving marketplace.

If you are a dry cleaner owner or operator, turning your dry cleaning business green will not only attract new customers but allow for a safe environment for you, your employees, your customers and the local environment. It is also critical that you do your part in addressing climate change. This article discusses the sustainability challenges and solutions for dry cleaners and provides a guide for becoming more sustainable.

Perc (Perchloroethylene) and the Effects On Humans 

Perc is classified as being so dangerous to humans that it must be handled as hazardous waste, yet 90% of dry cleaners in the US use it. Perc is a clear liquid that is known for its stain-removing ability – but at what cost? Perc can enter the body through both inhalation and skin exposure, leaving a wide variety of effects. These can include: 

  • Central nervous system depression, damage to the liver and kidneys, irritation of the respiratory system and skin, confusion, impaired memory, dizziness, headache, drowsiness, nausea, and eye, nose, and throat irritation.
  • Repeated skin exposure often results in dermatitis.
  • Nursing mothers that are repeatedly exposed to Perc can transfer it through their milk, possibly harming their child. 
  • Perc is known to cause cancer (bladder, esophageal, stomach, intestinal and pancreatic cancers).
  • Reproductive effects such as reduced fertility and spontaneous abortions have been reported from occupational exposure to perc.

How These Harmful Chemicals Affect Our Environment 

Dry cleaning chemicals such as Perc are not only bad for human health but for animals and the environment as well. After the Dry cleaning process has taken place waste water/separator water is left over. If disposed of improperly such as being poured down a septic tank, sewer, onto the ground or evaporated in an open boiling pot chemicals like Perc can: 

  • Contaminate water supplies and soils, making them toxic for the animals and plants that live there.
  • Be released into the air, and contribute to smog and can react with other volatile organic carbon substances.
  • Cause severe environmental accidents when it seeps down into the soil and reach drinking water aquifers.

Other trusted methods of cleaning clothes, like vacuum presses and spotting boards, can also release dangerous chemicals into the air and contaminate the environment.

Sustainability Starts with Eliminating Harmful Chemicals

Dry cleaners can install new safer cleaning systems, e.g wet cleaning, or replace PERC with less harmful detergents. They might also consider upgrading to a new modern cleaning system designed to be more eco-friendly, and using more eco-friendly detergents.

Wet cleaning

Wet cleaning is one of many ways dry cleaners can keep their customers and environment healthy. Wet cleaning uses washers and dryers with biodegradable soaps as well as pressing machines to clean the clothing instead of harmful dry cleaning practices like using perc. Another benefit to wet cleaning is it does not produce any toxic waste. 

The leader in wet cleaning systems is Kreussler. The developed SYSTEMK4, the wet cleaning system which innovated the dry cleaning industry to be environmentally friendly and safe. The essential component of SYSTEMK4 is the halogen-free solvent, SOLVONK4. The cleaning effect of the solvent is the same as PERC, and sometimes even better. SOLVONK4 is not classified as either a hazardous material or a hazardous substance. It is biodegradable and has been tested dermatologically with very good results.

Chemical replacement

K4 cleaning uses a non-toxic corn based biodegradable solution to toxic chemicals like perc.  Another green alternative is decamethylcyclopentasiloxane or D5 which is a silicone based non toxic cleaner. Kreussler provides the following cleaners: SOLVONK4: the halogen-free dry cleaning solvent, CLIPK4: the concentrated detergent, and PRENETTK4 – the pre-brushing agent.

Dry Cleaning & Waste Management

Dry cleaners produce waste that is harmful to the environment. Both plastic and hangers used by dry cleaners make their way to local landfills. But there are ways to minimize the use of plastic in the industry and also recycle metal hangers effectively or replace them entirely.

Plastic and hangers 

Plastic garment bags used by dry cleaners have served as a great way to protect clean clothes but it has become a major problem; it is estimated that over three hundred million pounds of dry cleaning bags end up in landfills in the US. It is well overdue for an eco-friendly solution that reduces the tremendous amount of waste. 

Hangers are yet another essential but non eco friendly aspect of dry cleaners. Hangers, because of certain materials used to make them, are difficult to recycle due to local guidelines.

Proper replacement and disposal of plastic & hangers

There are easy, inexpensive solutions to both of these issues. Reusable garment bags that can save dry cleaners money and help save the environment, according to Green Garmentos website dry cleaners can save up to $10,000 in just 4 years.

Reusable and recyclable hangers like bamboo or ditto hangers help to stop the amount of plastic waste that is disrupting our environment. Another easyway dry cleaners can help with hanger waste is a reuse hanger program allowing their customers to bring them back into the store. 

Dry Cleaning Operations & Machinery

Besides harmful chemicals, energy consumption of facilities during operations can also affect both the environment as well as profits of dry cleaners. This includes carbon emissions from your buildings, equipment and vehicles.

Carbon Emissions from Building Operations

For starters, energy consumption due to lighting and HVAC systems in the buildings can most easily be resolved. Simply by encouraging employees to turn off lights, heating or air conditioning systems when they leave the building can save energy. According to a study, 8% to 20% of energy spent on lighting can be saved by turning off lights on their way out. Installing lighting controls or sensors and thermostat or insulation on water can also have similar effects, decreasing energy consumption as well as reducing operation costs. 

Carbon Emissions from Delivery Operations

In recent years, an increasing number of dry cleaners start to provide pick up and delivery services as well as on-site drapery cleaning services. Although extremely convenient for customers, it is worth noticing that an increasing energy consumption has resulted from these services. It is recommended that employees providing services use eco-friendly transportation such as scooters and electric vehicles. 

Carbon Emissions from Dry Cleaning Equipment

In addition to lighting and HVAC systems, common facilities used in dry cleaning makes up the majority of energy consumption: boilers can take up about 20% to 60% of total energy costs, 25% to 35% of air can be wasted for air compressors solely because of leaks, air compressors also cause huge air filters waste, using steam traps that contain valves stuck half-open for six months can lead to a surprisingly high annual fuel expense. Meanwhile, different cleaning techniques have different utility usage for electricity, natural gas, and water. In order to prevent energy consumption and costs, several suggestions can be taken into consideration: 

  • Maintain equipment
    • Make sure dry cleaning equipment is properly maintained and possibly checked every once in a while
    • Install boiler controls
      • Operator pressure control — shuts down the boiler at a specific setpoint to prevent steam pressure from building up
      • Modulation pressure control — modulates between low and high firing rates depending on the steam pressure and the modulation control in order to find a rate that best matches the current situation and to save energy
    • Air compressors
      • By the end of the day, turn off air compressors and close the flow valve to prevent leakage
  • Upgrade equipment
    • Replace old inefficient facilities that have been used for more than 10 years
    • Choose a relatively eco-friendly cleaning technique – in recent years, there hasn’t been a technique developed that cost less electricity, less natural gas, and less water; therefore, a relatively realistic approach is to pick a technique that has relatively low overall utility usage and that the dry cleaners can handle

Below is a chart from Friendly Power’s article on Dry Cleaners and Laundry Facilities that looks at the utility usage of different cleaning techniques.

Green Business is Good For the Planet and Your Business

Maybe after you read this blog, you still question – why does my business need to go green? Indeed, making the decision to go green might seem too expensive with all the eco-friendly materials, techniques and machines in the beginning. It might seem like the overwhelming benefits in the short term such as using cheap products is much more beneficial than the effort put in to achieve benefits in the long term. Nevertheless, going green will eventually prove itself to be the winner and the trend. 

Marketing Your Green Business

Going green can differentiate a dry cleaner from others, providing a competitive advantage in such a crowded market. Furthermore, going green can help protect the environment, ameliorate climate change and save the planet we live in. 

Then how can you market your green business? Here are several way ways to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.

  • In Store Collateral
    • Display branded and detailed collateral such as flyers and posters or eco-friendly packaging that explains the green focus areas of the business at the storefront
  • Content Marketing
    • Share your company’s unique perspectives regarding green dry cleaner and meaning behind it through launching a blog, displaying at the storefront
  • Social Media Marketing
    • Create accounts on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram to reach out to potential customers
  • Green Certification
    • Apply for green certification to visibly showcase to customers your business’s commitment to making green changes

Time For Dry Cleaners To Get Serious About Sustainability

In order to support the health of the community and the environment as well as to become companies that customers can trust, like and respect, it is strongly recommended that dry cleaners endeavor to make green changes. To quote World Wildlife Fund (WWF), our work to fulfill our responsibility is far from done, yet “we cannot afford to fail in our mission to save a living planet.” 

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