What is Green Cleaning?
Green cleaning is defined as a cleaning program designed with the health of building occupants, caretaking staff, and the environment as a primary concern when selecting cleaning products, and determining cleaning procedures. A Green Cleaning Program is designed around products, equipment, and procedures that are chosen with the specific intent of minimizing toxicity in the environment, and minimizing the consumption of natural resources, ultimately leaving the smallest ecological footprint possible during the cleaning process.
Why embark on a Green Cleaning Program?
Cleaning chemicals and health problems
It has been found that some widely used cleaning products have serious adverse effects on the health of building occupants and caretaking staff. The average person spends about 90% of their day indoors, where air pollution from diverse sources such as upholstery, and carpeting can be up to 100 times greater than outdoor air. Health Problems caused by exposure to hazardous cleaning products can range from eye irritation to coughing, chest pain, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. 11.6% of work-related asthma comes from cleaning products. In addition, people who suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, a disease that is not fully understood or recognized by the medical community, feel that low level exposure to chemicals, such as cleaning products, cause them to feel sick.
Cleaning chemicals and the environment
Cleaning products can also harm the natural environment. There are over 70,000 chemicals being used today, and fewer than 2% have been thoroughly tested for their effects on human and aquatic life. Cleaning products are responsible for approximately 8% of non-vehicular emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds, which can trigger respiratory problems such as asthma, contribute to smog formation, and inhibit plant growth. Chemicals in cleaning products contribute to the toxic waste stream when they are disposed of. Chemicals such as alkyphenol ethoxylates are endocrine disruptors that are slow to biodegrade and have shown up in the endocrine systems of fish, birds, and mammals. Other chemicals cause algal blooms in water bodies, which in turn kills aquatic life.
Green cleaning is not just about chemical substitution, paper products also play an important role because their production process can harm the environment and human health. Paper products supplied by some sanitary supply companies have negative impacts on the environment and human health. Paper products that are bleached in the traditional method with chlorine create dioxin, a toxic chemical that does not break down and accumulates in the environment, harming both humans and wildlife. Chlorine bleaching also uses large amounts of water that then becomes polluted wastewater, further burdening the environment. Paper products further burden the environment through their use of virgin trees that are then used one time and disposed of. By switching to unbleached or non-chlorine bleached, recycled content products that have minimal packaging or using energy efficient hand dryers, the effects on the environment can be minimized.
Green cleaning aims to eliminate or reduce these potentially harmful toxins and carcinogens and aims to minimize resource consumption through product substitutions and procedural changes. Green cleaning emphasizes the environmental sustainability of cleaning operations and overall building health and does not solely evaluate building cleanliness based on appearance.
Green Cleaning Procedures
Green cleaning is not just about products, it is also about using sustainable cleaning methods. Some of the methods that are proving most successful include microfiber cloths, entrance matting, and high filtration (HEPA) vacuums. Microfiber cloths are made out of a special material that does not need chemicals to clean, and can be washed and reused many times. A life cycle analysis of microfiber cloths found that they are an excellent alternative to paper towels that are only used once. Entrance matting is used to keep dirt from entering a building, reducing the need for cleaning products. High filtration vacuums can be used to clean carpets and keep indoor air quality at an optimal level.
Our undertaking at U of T: