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4 ways to clean with a conscience

July 21, 2021

The UK cleaning industry is estimated to be worth around £55 billion a year to the country’s economy, employing around 970,000 people pre-COVID, so its definitely big business, but is also a big polluter.  

Businesses are coming under increasing pressure to reduce plastic and toxic chemicals, both of which are harmful to the environment and to our health.  If you haven’t done so already, now is a really good time to look at new processes that can minimize these negative impacts.

The good news is that there are a number of ways that you can change the way you clean:

1

Avoid single-use wipes and cloths

Almost all single-use wipes are made fully or partially from synthetic fibres and as such, they need to be disposed of with general waste which is most likely to be destined for landfill or incineration.  The UK gets through 11 billion single-use wipes every single year, and this figure is likely to have increased since COVID but most of them aren’t as effective as you might you think. 

In order to really kill germs, most cleaning solutions need to remain moist on any surface for a minimum of 60 seconds, in some cases it can be up to five minutes.  Neither of these timeframes are easy to achieve with wet wipes.  

The longer wet wipes sit in the plastic packaging, the more they dry out, meaning that in some cases what you might actually be doing is spreading germs around rather than eliminating them.  In any case, waste is generated.

Despite claims of being flushable and new standards being created for wet wipes, we highly recommend never flushing wet wipes of any kind. Wet wipes and other items that don’t belong in the loo mix with fats and oils to cause fatbergs, extremely unpleasant and costly problems for water systems management. 

2

Choose reusable cloths made from natural materials

Cotton is a resource intensive material, it needs a lot of energy and water for it to be cultivated and turned into fabric so it is important to reuse it for as long as possible.  Whilst bamboo is generally considered a sustainable material, processing it to make fabric can take its toll on the environment too.  However if cotton or bamboo cloths shed fibres, they are not harmful like synthetic fibres.   

You don’t always have to buy new cloths either, you could repurpose old bed and table linens into great cleaning cloths too. 

What about microfibre?  It is true that microfibre cloths have a number of advantages, not least they allow you to use much less water and they generally clean to a high standard, some have threads of colloidal silver which helps with disinfection but, they can release microfibres with every wash.  If you do continue to use microfibre cloths, consider washing them in a bag which captures the fibres so that you can dispose of them with general waste to prevent them from ending up in water systems.  

Whichever reusable cloth you use:

  • Remember the 60 second rule – don’t spray and immediately wipe  
  • Ensure that the cleaning solution is sprayed onto the surface and left to work for as long as the manufacturer instructions dictate.
  • Spray the surface not the cloth, to ensure that the solution can do its work.

3

Choose to REFILL

Cleaning spray bottles are usually made from high density polyethylene (HDPE), this is an incredibly hard-wearing plastic that should be used more than once. 

Logic dictates that what we actually need in order to clean is the product inside the bottle, we don’t need a new bottle every time, it is becoming easier to refill the bottle you already have. 

Work with suppliers that will provide products in larger volumes for you to decant so that you can minimize the volume of plastic you use, and always recycle the bulk bottle.

Look out for suppliers that will actually take back the bulk bottles or refill packaging so that it can be used again, or for suppliers that take responsibility for ensuring that packaging goes back into a circular loop or is at least disposed of responsibly. 

Increasingly there are door to door services offering refill now such Swoopl in Lincolnshire who can offer services to businesses as well as individual households. 

If you want to take care of refilling yourself, look for sachets and tabs in a concentrated formula.  To ensure dilution is done safely and correctly it is important to  follow the manufacturers instructions.  Make sure bottles are labelled and have strict protocols in place to ensure that the sachet or tab corresponds.  The Evie Blue range in our marketplace is a good example of how to do this well by colour coding its bottles and sachets to match.  Bottles even have a measuring line on the side so that you can ensure the right amount of water is added.

4

Look out for other cleaning innovations

Usually reserved for larger premises operating with wall mounted units, stabilized aqueous ozone (SAO) cleaning is now available in a mini version that is great for smaller businesses.  It turns ordinary tap water into powerful but safe SAO that can be used to clean and sanitize a range of different surfaces, with no detrimental impacts to the environment or to your health.  Simply refill with cold tap water and charge the iClean Mini when necessary. 

Take your time to read up on product descriptions and question anything you are unsure of, suppliers that really work hard to minimize negative impacts will be happy to take the time to answer your questions clearly. 

In all cases when it comes to cleaning products, take care to follow the manufacturers instructions and to comply with any necessary regulations around health, safety and hygiene. 

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Jo Hendrickx
Jo Hendrickx
Jo is a sustainability professional living in Gran Canaria with over 20 years of experience in the global tourism industry. She has worked extensively with hotels and accommodation providers around the world since 2001 helping managers to navigate the health, safety, quality and sustainability expectations of tour operators. Increasingly concerned with the impacts of unnecessary plastics, Jo was motivated to create Travel Without Plastic to support those hotels that want to make a difference.
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