By Matthew Simpson
From the June 2019 Issue
Green cleaning has gone mainstream in most locations, especially in large metropolitan areas. From the standpoints of return on investment (ROI), better indoor air quality, less absenteeism, and increased productivity, as well as sustainability, the benefits of using healthier cleaning solutions—along with green cleaning processes and equipment—are well proven. This article will discuss something new, as well as new information about something old: a standard green cleaning tool used since the 1990s.
Choosing Better (And Rapidly Renewable) Paper Products
Saving trees is what wise paper choice is all about. Recycled content for paper towels, hand towels, facial tissue, and toilet paper has long been specified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines” and Green Seal’s “Standards for Tissue (GS-1) and Towels (GS-9). Some users complain that these papers feel rougher. That’s because as recycled content increases, fiber length gets shorter. Shorter fiber means rougher paper.
Now, however, there are new papers that are softer, brighter, and whiter than recycled paper—yet just as sustainable. They’re made from rapidly renewable resources. Such products are recognized by both the EPA and the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) as environmentally preferred. These papers are considered rapidly renewable, which the USGBC defines as “made from agricultural products that are typically harvested within a 10-year or shorter cycle.” They “reduce the use and depletion of finite raw materials and long-cycle renewable materials by replacing them with rapidly renewable materials.”¹ The use of rapidly renewable products can be leveraged by facilities that plan to achieve the LEED certification.
At my company, the paper products we usually recommend through our GreenCare® program, contain 20-80% virgin rapidly renewable fiber, derived from fast-growing trees (such as acacia and eucalyptus) that take only six to eight years from planting to harvest. The paper pulp is sourced from a company that “continuously invests in sustainable forestry management, along with research and technology to optimize growth efficiency and maximize responsible land-use output.”² In 2013, for example, they put a halt to the clearing of all the natural forests throughout their supply chain.³
Compared to “long-cycle renewable materials” like spruce trees—which take 35 to 40 years to mature—acacia and eucalyptus trees can be replenished quickly. These trees also consume fewer natural resources, such as water. Bamboo is another paper pulp option—it grows a foot a day.
When it comes to paper dispensing systems in restrooms, some options are also “greener” than others. Coreless paper and dispensers (employing a reusable plastic spindle) prevent run-out, while conserving product. Standard cored-paper systems waste paper because janitors have to pull the cores off the spools when the paper gets thin. And then there is the inefficiency inherent in the packaging and the cores themselves. Coreless paper reduces labor, and supplies last longer due to the increased length per roll.
Microfiber: The “Clean” Test
Labor-saving and extremely effective for removing dirt (rather than just moving it around), microfiber is a well-known and vital tool for cleaning in an environmentally friendly way. But, here’s something a lot of people don’t know: Microfiber loses its effectiveness if not properly laundered. And when it’s not continuing to perform to original specifications, that creates a drag on productivity, meaning labor expense goes up. Here’s a test: rub the microfiber on your palm. If it’s new, it will feel like it catches on your skin. If the cloth is older and/or hasn’t been cleaned properly, it will feel smoother—the microscopic “claws” are blocked with deep soil. It can feel like there’s a waxy build-up.
It’s well known that fabric softener is a no-no, and you might believe the microfiber used in your cleaning program is being washed correctly with proper agitation and detergent. But most janitorial operations are not using powerful enough spin cycles. Over time, if microfiber is not spun properly, it might take 20 wipes to clean a mirror, instead of one.
When a commercial washer-dryer extractor spins at 400g, it almost totally dries the fabric. This spin speed creates centrifugal force necessary to “yank” out the soil. (For reference, g designates the force of gravity: 100g means 100 times Earth’s gravitational force.) Microfiber has the tensile strength to withstand this vigorous spin, whereas cotton doesn’t. You don’t have to wash microfiber this way all the time. Periodic commercial laundering will be sufficient. At some of our client sites, and in our larger branch offices, we have commercial washer-dryer extractors but in smaller markets, we outsource laundry about every 30 days for this type of deeper cleaning. Typically, we’d have four batches of microfiber and send out a batch a week to always have plenty clean on hand.
There is another laundering consideration for microfiber: It should never be washed in water exceeding 180°F or dried on a setting higher than medium. Higher temperature can singe or melt the cloth’s little hooks. The hooks act as claws scraping up, grabbing, and holding onto particles. When they’re working the way they should, effectively cleaning surfaces is a one-step process.
Some equipment, such as high-reach poles, use a brushed or satin microfiber. Because it is smoother, you can’t really feel the hooks (think eyeglass cloths). While it has a reduced lifespan and soil load, it’s effective for one-pass window cleaning: It doesn’t streak; using regular microfiber can sometimes look like you’ve raked the dust from the glass.
Microfiber is a reliable staple in green cleaning. But sometimes the simplest tool can go wrong. Proper laundering will solve that problem. You can then expect it to perform efficiently for about 500 wash/dry cycles before having to replace it.
These days, green cleaning has been standardized and is in wide use, but keep your eyes open for new tools, chemicals, products, and procedures. Recycled paper hand towels and bathroom tissue were once the best option, and now rapidly renewable products are emerging as a more aesthetic alternative. And sometimes the best learning comes from experience: Try switching laundering methods for microfiber and make the most of that tried and true favorite, while waiting for the next great thing.
Simpson is vice president of labor management for ABM. He has served in management positions at the company for more than six years. Prior to joining ABM, he owned his own business as a general contractor.
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