Is your Drycleaner Green? (Take the plastic back!)

Those that have known me for a while, know that I am a bit of an enigma. While its true, I was an Aerospace engineer, I also was a vegetarian for several years and for a period grew my own food, recycled and composted to such an extent that I did not have any refuse removal for weeks at a time. Somehow, I always was able to integrate my green beliefs and lifestyle with a field where many thought it wasn't possible.

Now that I am a drycleaner, reducing waste and my carbon footprint is as challenging as ever. With the growing green marketing in the world, I think it has gotten more difficult to know what is and isn't "greener".

First off, it isn't about the solvent! Did you know that all 4th generation drycleaning machines (in California - all drycleaning machines are supposed to be 4th or 5th generation) if they are well maintained, recycle 95% or more of the solvent with no air pollution?! Compare that to your washing machine at home that discharges all the water, detergents and bleaches into the sewer system. The main thing a customer needs to know is that the machinery is well maintained.

How can you tell if the drycleaner maintains his equipment? Well, a poorly maintained front office would be a good tip off. Chemical odors in your clothes is another. But over time you will be able to tell by the quality of cleaning. Poorly maintained equipment will show up as poorly cleaned garments.

If you are concerned about the environment, ask what your drycleaner does to be environmentally responsible. If the only answer is solvent, keep looking. Any environmentally concerned drycleaner should have a laundry list of items; Hanger re-use program, plastic recycling, paper and cardboard recycling, better light bulbs, full pipe insulation, boiler reclamation etc. You may not understand it all, but it is the fact that they have thought about it and have a list that counts.

Organic is a term that may have meaning in other industries, but is pretty meaningless for a drycleaner. Any chemical that has Carbon in it is technically organic. Perc, the solvent that has gotten all the bad press and the reason California drycleaners are required to have a Prop 65 sign in their windows, is organic. Silicone solvent - made from beach sand and the same chemical used in the beauty industry in many creams and lotions - is not organic. There are also CO2 machines and lots of hybrid types. They all have their environmental, safety or other drawbacks. So no matter the solvent, I maintain, you cannot determine a green drycleaner by solvent alone!

Plastic bags (known as poly) is the hardest thing for me to deal with. They are not recyclable in your home recycle bins. We had to take them to a grocery store for recycling before we got our supplier to take the plastic back. We now have gone to continuous roll plastic that reduced our usage by 20%. Unfortunately, the customers get more plastic. Try and make sense of that! The industry is working to create a bio-degradable (corn based) plastic. And I hope that it will be available soon. Reusable bags seem like a good idea - however you are creating another something that will need to be cleaned regularly - taking more energy and cost. It all gets very complicated very quickly.

My biggest recommendation for any dryclean customer is TAKE THE PLASTIC OFF THE CLOTHES AS SOON AS YOU GET HOME! The plastic is a petroleum product and it out-gasses. Often the chemical smell people complain about is not solvent, but out-gassing from the plastic. The plastic also captures atmospheric gases and holds them next to your clothes, and they will end up next to your skin. I have even seen cases where the plastic trapped moisture and the clothes were ruined by mold. Keeping the plastic on for a few days won't cause any harm. In fact, clothes packed in the drycleaner plastic travel much better. However, remove the plastic as soon as possible -- and by all means take it back to the drycleaner. If they don't take it, find another drycleaner.

So with all these negatives, you may wonder why I still believe in the cleaners. Well there are 2 main things that I feel are irrefutable;
  1. People must clean there clothes, and our washers and machines are always full, and constantly monitored. They use much less energy, detergent, solvent that any home cleaning system possibly could to clean the same volume. What better reason to get your sheets professionally cleaned and pressed - treat your self to luxery and help conserve our environment?
  2. We offer free pick up and delivery. This may be unique to us, but our routes are so dense that we have 100 stops a day on 5 routes. Think of the amount of traffic and fuel use if all those people drove to the cleaners!

In the end, I want you to feel better about your drycleaner. Bad operators give the whole industry a bad name. I trust that conscientious consumers like you will use their buying power to support the environmentally responsible drycleaner.

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