Green cleaning is the current trend that has taken the industry by storm. Every other company has now developed or sells a range of green products; hotels and hospitals are working on ensuring that they save water, paper, energy and the likes; while cleaning consultants harp on about the need for effective dosing and dilution. But, is this all there is to cleaning responsibly, keeping in mind health, safety and the environment? Or is there more? Are we cleaning needlessly, are we over consuming chemicals, oversanitising environments that do not require as much sanitisation? As a cleaning industry – an industry that is responsible for the health and consequently the lives of human beings and animals – are we being responsible enough?
Clean Middle East talks to three individuals who are experts in their own right in the cleaning industry to try and understand what drives over consumption of chemicals, oversanitisation, and the skewed understanding of what ‘green cleaning’ entails.
Are we cleaning needlessly, ineffectively and without responsibility? The resounding answer to that, in my opinion, is Yes! All around us we see cleaning staff in malls, hospitals, restaurants and schools, usually using toxic chemicals, which according to scientific research, is causing allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases and even cancer. We have to move away from traditional cleaning methods and non-effective ways of cleaning to keep pace with the 21st century clean technology that our era affords us.
Our knowledge-sharing and scientific research, along with more up-to-date access to information, allows the general public to learn that we are overcleaning - killing a lot of our good bacteria along with using products that are becoming detrimental to our health and the environment.
In the late 19th century, German physician Robert Koch discovered that certain bacteria caused specific diseases; this was an important discovery, and our sanitation and cleanliness dramatically improved. But, do we need to kill “99.9% of bacteria?” No. Too much cleaning is bad for us. We live in an age of cleanliness, with the promise of household cleaners and hand soaps killing 99.9% of germs and bacteria. Extensive research now shows that killing 99.9% of bacteria is not only attacking the bad bacteria but also the good bacteria necessary for strengthening our immune system let alone the negative effect this has on our eco system. We are not protecting ourselves by over cleaning; we are causing the breakdown of our own eco-system and the efficacy of antibiotics to kill in the event of a pandemic.
We are slowly moving away from the multi-decade focus on killing all bacteria via soaps, detergents and hand sanitizers, to a new understanding as to how our complex human bodies work. We are, as humans, built up of microbial matter and cells. We have over 100 trillion microbes in and on our bodies, and we now have the knowledge to challenge the previously held notion of good and bad bacteria. We need to create a balance with the microbial world (microbial to human cells for the average man of 1.3:1).
Now, without getting too scientific here, what I am really trying to say is that we need a major shift in our thinking and for the sake of our good health and that of our children let them ‘play in the dirt’, to enable their immune systems to develop with the right amount of bacteria.
While over-washing with regular soap is bad enough, many of us lather up daily with foaming and antibacterial soaps and scrubs, and clean our homes with antibacterial cleaning products. The principal ingredient in these products is a chemical known as triclosan, which was originally introduced as a pesticide in the 1960s, and is still used in pesticide applications today. Along with its pesticide function, triclosan appears in about 75% of all soaps, toothpastes and deodorants sold in the US and worldwide. The dangers of this chemical are becoming more widely known; it is linked to estrogen disruption, has been associated with encouraging an earlier onset of puberty, and can accumulate in fat tissues. It has been found in human blood, breast milk and urine samples. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; the FDA has now mandated all companies in the USA to remove this chemical by September 2017.
Another foaming agent found in commercial products is SLS (Sodium Laureth Sufate); it contains ingredients that can cause the following: Irritation of the skin and eyes, organ toxicity, developmental/reproductive toxicity, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, biochemical or cellular changes and possible mutations and cancer. I strongly believe that larger corporations have to take responsibility for the ingredients used in chemical products both for commercial and personal use.
It’s not so much about how often we should clean, but more importantly to educate people how to clean effectively in order to achieve the balance for our eco system. Many are unaware of the fact that excessive chemical products used in cleaning have a detrimental effect on our health and our water systems, coupled with the fact that our waste water treatment plants are not built or able to purify this kind of pollution. Every single chemical used eventually ends up in the water that surrounds us, our ground, lakes, rivers and seas and thereby harming the environment.
We need to clean effectively and efficiently while paying due attention to health and the environment using new clean technology which achieves the balance for supporting our eco system. A plant will thrive with adequate water, overwatering will kill it.
We live in an incredibly complex world in which even something as seemingly basic as cleaning is in fact rather complicated. Most people don’t have the luxury of time (or interest) in becoming experts on the subject matter, and while it’s generally safe to follow the status quo, there are some common misconceptions we should be all aware of. I take this opportunity to share my opinion on some, which I feel are more important, below.
It took manufacturers a while to educate society that cleaning with simply water is not sufficient. Today, the general conviction appears to be drifting towards the other extreme; the more product, the better - both extr emes have downsides. Too little product will often give you ineffective results, which may not be noticeable immediately but over time will result in serious hygiene issues. Using too much product on the other hand is not only wasteful, but can also cause problems such as sticky surfaces. Manufacturer guidelines are there to inform you how about the product is designed, you don’t need to follow them exactly, but stay within a meaningful range of them. If you desire a cleaner environment, the trick is to use better products, and clean more often!
Cleaning products contain surfactants, which amongst other things help break surface tension of water and break up oil so that dirt can be washed away (try washing your face or any greasy surface with water, and then again with any soap or product, and you will notice what this means). Surfactants typically tend to also cause foaming, as a result of this people often link foaming to better results.
The problem is that not all surfactants foam, in fact in some cases a good product needs to have low or no foam surfactants (too much foaming in a machine for example can damage the machine). Conversely, some manufacturers play on this misconception and add cheap agents that foam but are ineffective or in the worst case have harmful side effects. So, not foaming doesn’t make a product bad, and foaming doesn’t make it good, foam is often merely a by-product.
I end with a few notes on a point that I find incredibly worrying, a subject increasingly referred to as ‘greenwashing’ – the practice of using marketing to mislead consumers into believing a product or service is ‘green’ when it in fact is not. For example, I once noticed a bottle of liquid cleaning product on a supermarket shelf with the big label reading ‘NO CFCs. CFCs are bad, but they’ve been banned for over a decade, and in any case would have typically been used in aerosols not liquid products.
If you’re interested in going green, watch out for sneaky marketing tactics, spend just 15 minutes on the web once in a while, or talk to someone in your circle that knows about the subject. Here’s a good starting point: http:// sinsofgreenwashing.com.
It is without doubt that chemicals play an important role in keeping our environment clean and hygienic. Such an environment really saves lives. It was once said that cleanliness and hygiene has contributed more to increasing the average life expectancy than the medical world and clearly at a fraction of the cost. As per the Sinner circle, chemicals have to play their part. We know, however, that there is significant over-consumption of chemicals in professional cleaning. This is not good for the environment, creates unnecessary cost and hardly ever gives better cleaning results.
Clean dry: About 80-90 per cent of all dirt is dust. Under the circumstances in the Middle East, this is in the majority of cases dry dust. Wet cleaning, that is with the use of chemicals, is actually not the most suitable method to remove dry dust. But, in many cases a mop and a bucket are used to clean areas that only have dry dust. Better methods can be vacuuming, dust control mopping with acrylic or microfiber mops, or alternatively using the Masslinn system, a proprietary one-way dustbinding cloth. Where needed, a spray mop can be added to spot-clean. In addition to the reduced need for chemicals, the benefits are much higher -productivity of cleaning staff and no wet floors with slip and fall hazards. It is even more hygienic as bacteria thrive in a damp environment. No dust, no humidity means no growth environment for (malodour creating) bacteria.
Clean with microfiber: Microfibers (mops/ cloths) reduce the need for chemicals significantly, particularly if they are used the right way, damp and not wet.
Clean with scrubber driers: Machines use significantly less chemicals per sq. m. cleaned. A scrubber drier with an autodose system avoids operator error in dosing and will only mix the chemical at the point of use, so there is no risk that a tank mixed with unused chemical and water needs to be disposed of.
Use spray or foam cleaning: Chemical consumption is linked to the amount of water (a precious resource in the Middle East). If you choose a method that does not involve mixing chemicals with water in a bucket you will be saving chemicals.
Use dosing control mechanisms: This can be sophisticated automatic dosing installations on the wall or simple dosing caps and devices.
Train your staff: Perhaps, I should have started with this. It is vitally important that cleaning staff understands that less is more. Help them with easy systems that make controlled dosing possible. Nobody should be allowed to pour just out of a can.
Use ecologically sound chemicals: Unfortunately, the GCC states or the UAE do not have an ecolabel certification system (yet). Most ecolabeled products that are used in GCC countries have the European Ecolabel. The products under the European Ecolabel can exclusively be produced in Europe. This means that all those Ecolabeled chemicals are imported from Europe. I am sceptical about whether we we are contributing to sustainability if we transport such products, which in all probability contain at least 80% water, across 4,000-5,000 km. We locally produces products to the same environmental standards, without this long delivery route; however, it cannot obtain a European Ecolabel.
Reduce the use of products with disinfecting agents: Without exception, the ingredients that are used to support these claims are more harmful to the wider environment than regular cleaning chemicals. I fail to understand why we accept that cleaning cutlery that we eat from can be washed in warm water with a detergent without disinfecting properties, but many believe that the floor on which we walk with shoes needs to be cleaned with a product with disinfecting properties. Yes, in food preparation areas, yes, in operating theatres in a hospital, but why on the floor?
Disinfectants kill microorganisms, but the more dangerous ones are not killed with just a wipe over with a general product with some disinfecting properties. They need a very specific dosage and wet (!) contact time. The negative side of these ingredients is increasingly known. They are bad for aquatic life and sooner or later all wastewater ends in the sea. So, there is a lot we can do without lowering any standard of cleanliness or hygiene. Chemicals are an essential part of cleaning, but not more and not more aggressive than necessary.