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WCEC: "The road ahead should be green"

03 February 2022

We have reached a point where the culmination of climate change crisis awareness and a global pandemic have forced us to alter how we live now, and how we future-proof ourselves. As Gary Fage explains, cleaning and hygiene have been at the forefront of this awareness. 

THE UK cleaning industry, (along with the rest of the world) is at a pivotal point to make a lasting and positive impact to mitigate climate change effects, and the health of our colleagues, clients and end-users, alike.  

Influences on the road ahead

I anticipate two elements having a massive impact on the cleaning industry: 

  • the environmental effects of cleaning products on air quality, water and soil pollution and 
  • user health, both directly and indirectly. 

Since the realisation that chlorine and hyperchlorites had deodorising and disinfecting qualities in the 19th century, we’ve never really looked back. However, it’s time for a revision in our thinking as we move forward.

I believe that environmentally positive vegetable-based products and probiotic cleaners will replace 90% of traditional commercial cleaning products within five years as more companies embrace the concept of the circular economy. Furthermore, as we learn more about the frightening environmental impacts of chemicals and solvents in our water supplies, soil and air, we cannot afford to add to the problem that is literally poisoning us.

The pandemic highlighted that in our global effort to sanitise our surroundings from COVID-19, the use of chemical cleaners has rocketed.  There has been a lot of commentary on trying to preserve green cleaning practices during the crisis, while maintaining safe hygiene standards. However, the damage is done and further compounds the risk.  

I think we are now heading towards one of the biggest shake ups ever seen in the cleaning industry. There will be commercial casualties unless companies are prepared to adapt and accept that cleaning methods that were appropriate two years ago are not acceptable now. Unfortunately, many businesses will not make changes and I worry for their future (and ours as a planet if they don’t act).

Commercial cleaning products can be harmful to health and environment, so making mindful choices for your cleaning business is vital. Are your cleaning media emitting harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds)? Will they pollute the water on disposal? Are they toxic to touch or inhale?  Do they affect developmental and health potential of children? Do they harm our animals? Are they carcinogenic? Yet even now, few people understand why cleaning products are considered 'hazardous waste'. 

Many containers are not made from recyclable materials, yet end up in landfills. Hazardous materials may have a special requirement which usually demands energy for transport and disposal, which increases negative environmental impact.

There are so many considerations that are important to end-users and should be of concern to us as cleaning industry professionals.

We must take responsibility

We’ve got to listen to the science, clients and end-users. 

It doesn’t cost that much more, and with increased use of greener products the costs will decrease. So, I think it’s time for a revolution in our approach to cleaning, health and environment. The world is counting on it, and on us, not to endanger well-being while trying to make things safer.

As professionals, we must make responsible choices with the media we use to clean our built environment. There are greener and highly effective cleaning products available now that not only meet customer demand, but help us to achieve our collective sustainable goals as a country. And there’s also just doing what’s right, for us and our world.

Gary Fage is master at Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners

For more information visit https://wc-ec.com/