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Cutting plastic waste from cleaning

25 July 2017

Cromwell Polythene managing director James Lee considers simple steps that contract cleaners can take to cut down on plastic waste, and encourage their own clients to boost recycling activities 

Bashing plastics has become a popular pastime in the mainstream press. While the naming and shaming of unrecyclable and over-packaged products is certainly newsworthy, the real issue with recycling rates lies in end-user behaviour, as well as product design. 

The cleaning and janitorial industry is a major buyer of plastic products – and in turn provides these products to clients – used for lining bins and sanitary units and in disposable gloves and other PPE to support cleaning. Plastic meets the stringent hygiene and safety demands of the sector while contributing to resource savings across diverse applications.

Responsibly produced plastic packaging also brings value and efficiencies to the supply chain – weighing less than alternatives like glass and metal, it is highly efficient at retaining fluids, eliminating environmental leaching of cleaning chemicals and wastes from bottles, for instance. 


Contrary to popular belief, plastics have a very resource-efficient profile – particularly those produced from recycled materials. The environmental costs of using plastics in packaging are nearly four times lower than if plastics were replaced by alternative materials over the full life cycle. But sending plastics to landfill is a waste of resources. Crucially, responsibly produced plastics can be recycled effectively and efficiently, or used to generate energy from waste (EFW) at the end of their useful life.

Cleaning contractors looking to cut out waste and further their sustainability goals should choose cleaning products that are packaged in plastics that are clearly labelled as recyclable. Avoid complex, multi-material containers, for instance, and look out for plastics that are created from recycled material. There are many highly competitively-priced products on the market that use recycled plastics, some with up to 100% recycled material content.

When it comes to hygiene, washroom and sanitary waste supplies, cleaning and janitorial buyers can further cut down on waste by choosing sanitary liners that include bactericides and fungicides added at the point of manufacture, during the film extrusion process. This saves time, money and resources by reducing and even eliminating the need to use separate anti-microbial/bacterial products during waste collection and disposal.

Independent accreditation

However, our corner of the industry is awash with suppliers offering a wide range of bin liners, sanitary bags and other hygiene and sanitary waste liners. Some offer products that are deliberately sold underweight, undersize, and even undercount, so buyers do not get the quantity that they thought they had bought, while others are such poor quality that they will burst, risking hygiene and health and safety.

Buyers in the janitorial and cleaning industry can ensure that the products they are investing in perform to a high standard by checking for minimum net box weights, which should be clearly marked on the outer carton, as well as looking out for international, independently audited quality standards. These include EN standards and ISO quality management principles. 

Products accredited by independent bodies, for instance the Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association (CHSA), also provide assurance of high standards of quality. And the CHSA’s Manufacturing Standard Accreditation Scheme for plastic refuse sacks requires accredited members to label their products so that the end user can buy with confidence. 

Some manufacturers will also go above and beyond industry standards with their own standards. The most responsible producers of plastic will also have systems in place to support buyers’ recycling initiatives, and offer to collect ‘waste’ packaging and other material as part of a landfill diversion programme. Similarly, contract cleaners could also work in partnership with their own clients to support recycling initiatives in a facility. 

This could involve improving rates of waste segregation at the point of disposal – key to achieving higher recycling rates. Cleaners could help by ensuring there are enough bins, that they are in the right place, that they are clearly marked. And, just as any responsible cleaner would report a leaking tap to their client, misuse of segregation bins should also be highlighted as a waste of time, effort and resources. 

This type of partnership approach to contract cleaning can help both parties reach sustainability goals, and also boosts the reputational status of the contract cleaner as a champion of best practice.