What goes around comes around.
We are all increasingly aware of the impact human activity has on our environment. Global warming, drought, deforestation and the ever-growing issue of where we dump our waste make headline news day in day out. Our linear ways of working and manufacturing products that show no accountability for the impact we are having on the environment around us cannot continue.
“The greatest danger to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” – Robert Swan, 2012
Today, many businesses are left wondering what they can do to leave a more positive impact on their environment. Thinking in terms of building a circular economy can help.
What is a circular economy?
In the past, we would take materials from nature, make products out of them, and eventually discard them without care for where they end up next – the process has been entirely linear and consumer-centric.
The circular economy, by contrast, is a model for production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible. The aim is to significantly extend the life cycle of products, reducing single use items and minimising unnecessary waste overall. In a fully circular economy, we prevent waste and toxicity being created at the point of design.
The three core principles of a circular economy:
Tackling global challenges and sustainability head on, manufacturers from every sector must design products that are first and foremost reusable. They avoid using up finite natural resources, making a transition to renewable energy and materials key to the circular economy framework:
– Eliminate waste and pollution
– Circulate products and materials (extracting maximum value)
– Regenerate nature
A circular economy builds resilience and contributes to positive outcomes for businesses, their people, their customers and the environment. Like in the natural eco-system, we want to build products that can be used and returned to the earth to without causing damage.
Building a circular economy in cleaning
In cleaning, there is a continual toxic conundrum at play. The cleaning products we use (everything from the detergents to the fibres and plastics involved in administering them) are often made using toxic and harmful chemicals. The problem we have is that they also remain harmful when discarded down the drain or into the trash.
Chemicals that damage the natural environment are not conducive of a circular economy yet many still use them with vigour. This is especially true post-pandemic when cleaning has rightly, gone into overdrive.
The old ‘Make, Use, Dispose’ mindset needs to change
Even if cleaning products are recycled, the toxicity from the chemicals they contain stays in the system indefinitely. These chemicals largely do not biodegrade. And this issue is actively supressing the UK’s recycling rates and reducing recycling efficiency dramatically.
If, however, concerning chemicals and problematic plastics were excluded from the manufacturing process from the outset, the opportunity to recycle would greatly increase. Thus, contributing to a more circular economy.
Recycling isn’t the only factor to consider in your commercial cleaning programme however, there are numerous simple and cost effective ways we can minimise waste and pollution:
How commercial cleaning can contribute to a circular economy
1 | Consider alternatives to toxic chemicals for cleaning
The chemicals used in cleaning products, air fresheners and detergents are often toxic and can cause indoor air and aquatic pollution after use. Many cleaning products contain respiratory irritants and have long- and short-term adverse effects on cleaning operatives, building occupants and any pets present.
One easy solution is to evaluate the all-natural, probiotic cleaning and air freshening solutions that are now readily available for commercial use at little to no extra cost.
Chemical runoff is a major concern. Where chemicals destroy the natural microflora (the community of microorganisms that live in any particular habitat); probiotics work to actively restore it. Probiotics, unlike other cleaning detergents
continue to work after use – actively cleaning the wastewater, sewage, drains and pipework when discarded down the drain without any harm to wildlife.
Used to permanently replace traditional chemicals in daily cleaning, they reduce water pollution, indoor air pollution, allergic reactions, protect aquatic life, providing a broad range of societal and ecological benefits.
Free from harmful chemicals, toxins, respiratory irritants, pollutants and carcinogens, probiotic cleaning detergents are highly effective (even against Covid-19) and remove the root cause of odours too.
Safer to use, they are quickly biodegradable and have less safety concerns associated with their use, transport, storage and discard. They also fulfil the growing demand for and cruelty-free products.
2 | Favour recycled, recyclable and/or compostable consumables and packaging
Single-use plastics are the enemy of a circular economy. Yet the cleaning industry is heavily reliant on single-use plastic with short life-spans. The harsh chemicals within either prevent recycling or end up contaminating our waterways.
Look for recycled and recyclable spray or detergent bottles and pay attention to packaging and labelling. You may also want to choose sustainable ranges of recycled consumables for your premises too, something many employees now look for as standard.
More emissions come from plastic packaging than come from the contribution from the global aviation sector!
3 | Always work from concentrate
Water use is a hot topic right now and cleaning operatives have a real opportunity to minimise their water use and waste. The first important change is to using cleaning products from concentrate and understanding the importance of proper dosing.
Using dosing caps to accurately measure out concentrates into re-useable spray bottles is the most economical method to adopt. By moving to concentrates, businesses can reduce CO2 contributions in many areas – with less packaging overall and fewer deliveries needed, you can tackle water waste and minimising associated carbon emissions in one.
4 | Carefully select equipment and materials for quality and reparability (and keep innovating)!
The old adage ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’ springs to mind here. By selecting products and equipment more carefully according to their quality, and reparability we can reduce waste dramatically.
Ensure your equipment has spares and qualified repairers readily available, and place emphasis on re-usability from the most expensive products all the way down to what cloths you use.
Emphasise the importance of cleaning and maintaining your equipment properly to extend their life-cycle and make future repairs easier.
This focus on quality should extend beyond detergents and equipment too – you can tackle textile waste by selecting Uniforms fit for purpose, hard wearing and withstands frequent washing.
In short – we all need to work on ‘Doing more with less’
The vital difference with the circular economy is that it mimics the cyclical patterns of nature. Sustainability is inherent in new products waste at the end of the life is as important as the waste produced in their creation. If waste is created – it must be returned to earth in a benign and unharmful form.
A circular economy in cleaning is far from being realised. However, with an increasing array of viable alternatives for effective hygiene and disinfection, businesses can really start to make the circular economy a reality.
And if we all shift our mindset from the old “make, use, dispose” to “reuse, reduce, recycle”, we can work together to create an industry that is nature-positive, resource-efficient and minimally wasteful for the good of us all.