Cleaning Up the Cleaning Industry

As a toll manufacturer; our role within the industry is focused mainly on the supply end of the chain, however the processes involved in the manufacture and design of products for the cleaning industry can generate various types of waste stream, all of which must be dealt with appropriately.

In the creation of liquid and especially solid powder products there is always an amount of material that cannot be recovered, which becomes waste. The hazards associated with such products can vary but industrial degreasers are often alkaline, lime-scale removers acidic and many other products usually at the very least carry irritancy classifications. Safe cleandown of production processes that generate these wastes is essential, often creating corrosive washings and solid wastes. It is often possible to recover some of these wastes for internal cleaning purposes, however this never gets rid of it all. These costs are a burden for the manufacturing industry that are hard to avoid, but it’s certainly better to handle the materials properly rather than dispose of them in an inappropriate way.

Even though many cleaning products are not classified as harmful to the aquatic environment or as human toxicants they can still cause significant harm to the environment if not disposed of properly. Bodies of water are weakly buffered by natural bicarbonates, which prevent swings in pH, however a significant quantity of an acid or an alkaline material could dramatically affect life in a lake or a river. Beyond direct corrosive effects, acidification can affect plankton, who have acid-soluble silicate bodies, decreases in plankton populations can then affect the entire dependant ecosystem. Surfactants and materials that affect the surface tension of bodies of water can affect Gerridae species (like pond skaters) who live on the surface of water, the lower surface tension causes them to sink and drown, again affecting the local food chain. Chelating agents such as EDTA are relatively persistent in the aquatic environment, over time these can mobilise insoluble heavy metals causing a build-up and toxicity in animals that consume them. Quaternary ammonium and phosphate/phosphonate based surfactants act as fertilisers and cause eutrophication in lakes and rivers, which again can cause negative effects to the aquatic life.

There is a responsibility on all within the industry, especially those who generate such waste to ensure that once a material enters the drainage system it does not cause the waste water processing plant difficulties. Treatment plants remove solids, sludges, filter out various contaminants and remove nutrient containing components via biological treatment, however some dissolved components will still make it through into the environment. Product and concentrated wastes should be dealt with by a licenced waste contractor with only the most dilute and minimised loadings ever reaching the drainage system, and never directly onto land or into the environment.

Obviously some material will enter the drains. There is a considerable fraction of the public who now actively look for “green” and “environmentally friendly” products. Whilst there is no fixed definition for what a “green” or environmentally friendly” material is and a lot of mis-information and mis-understanding on the matter the mandate for change is definitely there.

Everyone in the chain from formulators to manufacturers to commercial and domestic users have a part to play. For a long time the chemical industry has had a label of being dirty and polluting and generally does not enjoy much of a positive public image, Grotech Production Ltd have worked on this and as a result won awards for our contribution in waste and caring for the environment. Currently shortlisted for the 2019 Business Awards in February.