The challenge of waste

Waste arising from cleaning services extends beyond what is picked up, vacuumed up or cleaned off, explains ECNZ's Francesca Lipscombe.

The cleaning industry produces a lot of waste.

Cleaning companies must deal with, and dispose of, the dirt and rubbish collected during the cleaning process. That may be in the form of solid materials like paper rubbish or food scraps, or in the form of liquid run-off from the cleaning process itself.

But the waste arising from cleaning services extends beyond what is picked up, vacuumed up or cleaned off. A cleaning operation encounters waste in a range of other aspects of their operations, and that waste also has to be addressed responsibly if the provider wishes to meet environmental standards and protect the environment.

If you look at the cleaning business through a typical day, additional waste can be found in a number of areas:

  • cleaning materials like cloths and brushes which eventually become worn and unusable
  • empty cleaning product containers
  • packaging of any consumables used
  • used equipment parts like floor cleaners, when they reach the end of their useful life and have to be replaced.

Under Environmental Choice New Zealand’s cleaning services specification, licensees must have effective waste management policies and procedures, including initiatives to reduce waste generation. Environmentally conscious cleaning companies ensure waste management is a key part of their business processes, including instruction in how to reduce and manage waste in the training they give their staff.

But there is also an onus on building managers to do their part. Buildings should have recycling programmes in place that cleaning organisations can utilise to help manage waste. That means bins for material which can be recycled, that cleaners can readily and easily access.

The Environmental Choice specification requires service providers to help building managers with their waste management and support their recycling programmes, though owners may not always have good systems in place.

The specification also obliges service providers to use refillable plastic containers for their cleaning products which can also be recycled, and to buy their cleaning chemicals and accessories in quantities that minimise packaging waste, where feasible.

Even the choice of chemicals you use has an impact on waste. A lot of cleaning waste enters sewage and stormwater systems through a building’s plumbing and the less toxic the chemicals in that waste the better for the environment and the community.

I’m pleased to say heartening progress is happening in that area, with an ever-increasing range of environmentally preferable cleaning chemicals now available in New Zealand.

Good service providers also instil a sense of care in their employees around the use of chemicals to avoid overuse or spillage – wastage that can also put employee health at risk. Proper training emphasises those risks and fosters greater care in chemicals handling.

Another sort of waste

Other aspects of cleaning operations where waste – a different sort of waste – can be reduced are fleet management and energy saving.

Fuel ­– and power-saving policies and practices “save waste” in the sense of wasted energy. Providers can achieve better outcomes through purchasing more environmentally friendly vehicles, for example – avoiding unnecessarily large “gas guzzlers” or moving to electric or hybrid vehicles as some providers have done in New Zealand.  Better driving saves petrol too. Reducing carbon emissions is just as much a part of waste reduction as cutting down on throwaway packaging.

The same applies to use of electricity: cleaning organisations use appliances and often clean by night when lighting is necessary. Prudent use of power in both cases is worth pursuing.

The cultural shift here is from seeing waste as an unavoidable by-product of cleaning, to seeing waste management and reduction as one of your core operational and business goals.

In return, the environment benefits – but so does the standing and reputation of the organisation, giving customers and employees greater satisfaction and giving the business a competitive edge over competitors that don’t take waste reduction seriously.

*Francesca Lipscombe is the general manager of the New Zealand Ecolabelling Trust which administers the Environmental Choice New Zealand ecolabel on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

 This was first published in the August issue of INCLEAN NZ.

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