Raising the sustainability profile of cleaning

07 September 2017

From chemical-free cleaning solutions to emissions-free city sweepers, the principles of the circular economy are driving the cleaning sector towards an ever more sustainable future, says RWM event director Nicola Meadows

The wide-ranging supply chain and client basis of the cleaning industry make it something of a melting pot for innovation, with producers of cleaning supplies and equipment working closer than ever with contract cleaners to maximise efficiency and productivity, and contract cleaners – particularly the larger firms – seeking to align their services ever more closely with their clients’ commercial and corporate social responsibility goals.  

Circular cleaning

As the global community looks to move towards a One Planet Living solution, all industries must consider both the original source and the management of the finite resources they extract. A key driver of this change is the concept of a circular economy. This sees a transition from the traditional linear model of resource use and disposal, to one that makes more efficient use of resources and retains their value as they circulate in the economy for longer. 

Many cleaning product manufacturers are working to integrate circular economy principles into their business models improving the recyclability of packaging, and using packaging that itself consists of a high level, if not 100%, recycled material. Using less packaging is also key to this, and many producers of cleaning products are championing self-dosing, reusable bottles, which not only reduce packaging wastage, but result in more efficient ordering of consumables to minimise product waste, and cut down on transport emissions. Concentrated cleaning agents also use less water to produce than ready-to-use dilutions, which also saves energy and resources as well as adding to logistics efficiencies. 

Chemical free cleaning

At the same time, cleaning product manufacturers and contract cleaning companies know that limiting the use of cleaning chemicals not only benefits the environment, but can also bring health and safety advantages to both cleaning operatives and users of a facility. 

Innovative chemical-free systems on the market – which still produce a high standard of cleaning – include pure water systems for window cleaning, microfibre cloths and diamond encrusted cleaning pads, and enzyme-based biotechnological cleaning agents. 

Cutting edge technology

The rise of app-based software platforms has also extended the service offering for many contract cleaning companies, with the most modern players managing entire contracts including all back-office functions using apps that can be taken on-site. Not only does this have transparency and communication benefits for clients, but working with real-time technology reduces paper usage in offices. Where this technology interfaces with fleet management systems, such as GPS vehicle trackers, it can also lead to a cut in emissions and overall carbon footprint thanks to efficiencies. 

Using the most up-to-date equipment is also central to reaching sustainability goals. Manufacturers of municipal cleaning equipment such as street sweepers are investing in emissions-free models that can be run indoors and in dense urban areas. In this field, great strides have been made in battery efficiency, with longer run-times on offer lasting whole shifts in some cases before a recharge is required.

Elsewhere, producers of street sweeping equipment are looking at ways of recycling the fragments of cardboard, dust, glass, grit, metal, paper, plastic, wood and other organic material that make up the sweepings themselves. The technology now allows these sweeping materials to be recovered instead of sent to landfill, and solutions for resource recovery like this are becoming more and more straightforward and cost-effective to invest in too. 

Transparency is key

For producers of cleaning products and equipment, and commercial cleaning contractors alike, transparency is crucial in order to gain trust and respect for a sustainability innovation. Gaining accreditation or certification from a reputable third-party organisation, such as Carbon Smart certification for a business or Eco Label on products, is the best way to broadcast and record your sustainability achievements. 

The best cleaning companies will also work closely with their clients to help drive the sustainability agenda. This type of partnership approach can help both parties reach their circular economy aims, and boosts the reputational status of the facility being serviced as a true champion of best practice. 

 RWM 2017, the UK event dedicated to Waste Management, Recycling, Renewables, Energy and Water, runs from 12-14 September 2017, at Birmingham’s NEC.