Green Cleaning for Restaurant and Foodservice Operations

A comprehensive green cleaning program entails more than just using non-toxic chemicals. A good program covers all areas of cleaning from maintenance and recycling to training. Of course, the choice of healthier cleaners is a main topic in green cleaning. Changing from the use of standard, harsh industrial cleaners to more environmentally sound cleaners is an action that not only benefits the natural environment, but also employee and customer's health, food safety and finances.

Several studies have shown offices that use environmentally friendly cleaners pay for fewer sick leaves than those that do not while schools show increased class attendance and student test scores.

The market of green cleaners has boomed in recent years and offers a wide variety of almost every cleaner, disinfectant, sanitizer and cleaning chemical used at comparable costs. In fact, greening cleaning programs are considered cost neutral.

Unfortunately, the growing market has added some confusion to green cleaning products. The market is full of products that claim to be "environmentally friendly," "green," "biodegradable" or any other marketing term they can contrive, but may still contain harmful elements. Because of some manufacturer's loose use of environmental terms and the extensive knowledge and time needed to find green cleaners, most large-scale green cleaning programs purchase janitorial products that are third-party certified. Currently there are a handful of organizations certifying janitorial products under similar standards.

Third-Part Certification and Certification Standards

Green Seal (GS) is a non-profit organization that offers third-party product certification on a wide range of products. The GS label is widely known in the United States as the premiere mark of environmental standards and used for purchasing standards set by the US government, many state and local governments and large corporations. Beside their product certification, GS also offers certification for the lodging industry and janitorial services.

Environmental Choice Program (ECP) is an organization based out of Canada that offers third-party certification of many different products including cleaners and janitorial paper products. Their web site is very detailed with info on products, manufacturers web sites, contact info and the criteria the product must meet to obtain certification.

Greenguard is a third non-profit certifier that specialized in indoor air quality issues. All certified Greenguard products must meet several chemical emission or "off-gassing" standards. Both Greenseal and Environmental Choice Program also certify some of the cleaners certified by Greenguard.

Chlorine Free Products Association (CF) certifies bathroom, kitchen and office paper supplies. They label products under two categories totally chlorine free (TCF) which is reserved for virgin material that is processed without chlorine or chlorine products and does not use old growth wood. Processed chlorine free refers to 30% post-consumer recycled content paper that meets the same standards as TCF.

All the certifiers list their standards for product certification on their web sites. Each product type is held to different standards based on their use and ingredients. General use cleaners have different standards than hand soaps for instance. Green Seal standards tend to group more products under one criterion compared to the ECP standards, which have specific standards set for each individual product.

Cleaning Programs and Best Practices

Many groups have started green cleaning programs either based on a standardized system or built from scratch. Green Seal's cleaning services certification is a standardized program that sets requirements for planning, products, procedures, training and communication. The GS standards give an outline for creating a customized program which details procedures for vacuuming, floor care, training, chemical use, restroom cleaning and almost anything dealing with a cleaning program. Of course, most establishments have no need to be certified, but the standards are useful for customizing a green cleaning program.

INFORM, a sustainable business and industry advocate has also created a green cleaning report called "Cleaning for Health" that outlines more specific practices and tips for cleaning and suggested cleaners. The toolkit link downloads several helpful documents like checklists, best practices and sample policy statements.

A few general ideas to keep in mind when creating a green cleaning program:

  1. Keep the variety and amount of cleaners to a minimum. Stick with just a few that accomplish the tasks you need.
  2. Most things can be cleaned with a general cleaner or no cleaner and a little elbow grease.
  3. Properly dispose of unused and unneeded cleaners and chemicals. lists chemical disposal options for most communities.
  4. Purchase certified cleaning chemicals
  5. Purchase certified paper products
  6. Avoid anti-bacterial soaps unless required by law.
  7. If you cannot find a certified or environmentally preferable choice for a particular cleaner, contact the manufacturer for more detailed information on ingredients, use, disposal, and toxicity. Avoid products containing dangerous chemicals. The National Parks lists chemicals to avoid and recommended cleaners. The Janitorial Product Pollution Prevention Project gives information that is more detailed and suggestions on choosing non-toxic cleaning chemicals.
  8. Avoid products with labels of "danger," "poison" or "caution."
  9. Focus on entryways to reduce the amount of dirt coming into a building.
  10. Minimize chemicals in the air. Spray cleaners on a cloth rather than a surface and use direct sprays rather than misters.
  11. Use green certified machinery. See below.
  12. Use micro fiber cloths and mops to reduce airborne particles.

Additional Green Cleaning Resources

Carpet and Rug Institute
A carpet industry organization that has created standards and listings for Green Vacuums and "Green Label" carpets, adhesives and cushion materials.

Carpet America Recovery Effort
Program developed by the carpet manufacturing industry to help recycle and create markets for the reuse of carpet material. The site has a map of "carpet recovery partners" around the United States.

Healthy Schools Campaign
A program designed specifically for schools titled "The Quick and Easy Guide" which lists five steps to green cleaning. The guide provides a list of "featured green products". Most of the products are certified, but some uncertified, environmentally preferable choices are also listed such as disinfectants and other products used in a cleaning program like micro fiber clothes and recycling bins.

Green Cleaning Network
An organization developed to share information and educate stakeholders in the cleaning industry on the benefits of green cleaning programs.

Label Reading Guide
An easy to use index of the use and environmental effects of chemicals found in common household cleaners.

Center for New American Dream's Responsible Purchasing Network
A nice, easy list of both GS and ECP certified cleaning products.

EPA Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator
A formula created by the EPA to calculate the amount of potential reductions in chemical and hazardous material use.

Global Ecolabeling Network
International organization made up of member organizations that provide product certification (ecolabeling) throughout the world.

Consumer Reports Eco-lables Center
A program and web site developed by the Consumers Union and maintained by Consumer Reports that provides information and a report card on different environmental labels. These labels range from text labels such as "biodegradable" and "phosphate free" to certification labels like Green Seal, Forest Stewardship Council and Fair Trade Certified. This is a great resource for scrutinizing questionable products with an unfamiliar label. The site does not list specific products.

Aerias Air Quality Sciences
Aerias is a for-profit organization that provides comprehensive laboratory research on in-door air quality. The web site contains exhaustive information on air quality for the hospitality industry.

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