Learn how to take your business to the next level of sustainability by turning office waste into a resource and cleaning the natural way.
I believe that one of the most important aspects of sustainability is recycling and actively engaging people to properly recycle. While this may seem challenging to certain people, it is really not as difficult as it seems (read more about how to recycle here).
Broadly speaking, recycling can be the solution to the problem of resource depletion. We just need to teach the community how to recycle and communicate the importance of doing so.
Green cleaning, like recycling, is another topic that is simple to understand, but which is talked about infrequently. Recent research shows that certain conventional cleaning products can be harmful to the environment and the human body, but green cleaning solutions, a.k.a. eco-friendly alternatives, do exist. As consumers, it is important to invest in these alternatives.
Chicago Green Office Challenge: Lunch and Learn
As part of the Chicago Green Office Challenge, I facilitated a conversation at Mightybytes, teaching a Lunch and Learn on these two important topics. Hopefully this information will inspire you to spread the word and implement some of these sustainable practices in your own office.
Why is Recycling Important?
As of 1980, people are using resources faster than the earth can replenish them. Shockingly, if everyone on Earth was to live like most Americans, we would need 4 to 5 Earths to sustain that way of life.
The main issue at hand is that resources are being used at an unsustainable rate, while the reusable waste this generates is not being reused. Fortunately, with proper recycling, some of this waste can be redirected into materials for new products.
The Current Process
The figure below shows the typical process a product goes through, starting at the point that resources are extracted to make the product and ending at the final stage of the product’s life, when it is disposed. Recycling is about making this process an endless loop, where instead of disposing the product after step 3, it is recycled, and the material is reused as a new resource, restarting the entire process at step 1.
How Does Recycling Work?
There are two main types of recycling processes: single stream and multi stream recycling. Single stream recycling allows all recyclables to be disposed into the same bin, while multi stream recycling requires manual sorting by the user.
While both have their pros and cons, single stream recycling has become the more dominantly used process. The sorting process that follows curbside pickup is the most important step in this operation. The video below explains how single stream recyclables are sorted and made into reusable material.
Green Cleaning Products: Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Conventional Products
Green cleaning products are simply defined as products that are consumer safe and environmentally friendly.
As of today, there are over 17,000 petrochemicals available for home use, but only 30% of these have been tested for their effects on human health and the environment. Additionally, with indoor air quality being 100 times worse than outdoor air quality, the cleaning products used in your home can have a large impact on your health.
Below is a rundown of harmful chemicals you may find in your home along with some green cleaning alternatives:
- Ammonia: found in glass cleaners, window cleaners, and polishing waxes
- – Can cause eye and skin irritation; can irritate the mucous membranes of the lung, leading to breathing difficulty; and can induce or aggravate asthma
- – Alternative: distilled vinegar
- Artificial Fragrances: found in laundry detergents, dishwashing detergents, soaps, and air fresheners
- – Artificial Fragrances are petroleum based, nonrenewable, and don’t degrade in the environment. They have toxic effects on mammals and fish, and are linked to lung disease and cancer in humans
- – Alternatives: natural plants, pomanders (oranges studded with cloves); baking soda (for removing odors)
- Chlorine Bleach: found in most cleaning products
- – Can cause chemical burns and eye and throat irritation. Inhaling bleach can cause deterioration of the esophagus lining and the lungs, as well as scar the respiratory tract. When mixed with waterways, it reacts with minerals to form dangerous toxins in the water, threatening marine and terrestrial wildlife
- – Alternative: hydrogen peroxide-based bleach
- Chlorinated Phenols: found in toilet bowl cleaners
- – Can cause respiratory and circulatory problems
- – Alternatives: baking soda, liquid soap, vinegar, and Coca Cola can be mixed together to remove tough toilet stains
- Formaldehyde: found in wick and spray air deodorizers
- – A proven respiratory irritant and a suspected carcinogen
- – Alternatives: boiling cinnamon and other fragrant spices; natural plants; pomanders; baking soda
- Phenols: found in disinfectant sprays and wipes
- – Can cause respiratory and circulatory health problems
- – Alternatives: mix tea tree oil, water, and lemon oil for a naturally disinfecting spray
- Phosphates: found in dishwashing detergents
- – Banned from laundry detergents, phosphates can cause cardiovascular problems in people and trigger excessive growth of certain marine plants and algae when released in water, causing an imbalance in marine ecosystems
- – Alternatives: phosphate-free dishwashing detergents
- Triclosan & Triclocarbon: found in antibacterial soaps and other products
- – Can cause hormone-related diseases; potentially linked to increased risk of breast cancer; and shown to cause hormone disruption in aquatic animals
- – Alternatives: mix baking soda, vinegar, and water; use organic gels and oils
The Silver Lining
While some of this information on the harmful chemicals hiding in common cleaning products may come as a shock, there are always companies and people out there trying to make a difference. Whether it is getting businesses to act more sustainably in the city, developing new ways to reduce CO2 emissions, purchasing green cleaning products or biking to work, the possibilities are limitless.