HG: SustainAbility Column November 29, 2008

An ad touting “Green Drycleaning” piqued my interest, so I decided to investigate.

What followed was a crash course in the evolving dry cleaning industry.

Perchance a little history is in order.

For many years, dry cleaners depended on controversial perchloroethylene, nicknamed PERC, to clean up our messes. PERC is a synthetic, volatile organic compound, which acts as a central nervous system depressant and can cause liver and kidney damage. PERC is classified as hazardous waste by the Environmental Protection Agency and several states are phasing out its use.

In the quest to replace PERC, Co-op America has identified two methods of cleaning that are truly safe for people and the environment: wet cleaning and liquid carbon dioxide (CO2).

Wet cleaning uses water as the solvent in conjunction with special soaps and conditioners. Wet cleaning machines are computer controlled and can be programmed to account for a number of variables.

The other truly green method uses pressurized liquid carbon dioxide in a specialized machine, which unfortunately is very costly. For more detailed information, go to http://www.coopamerica.org/pubs/realmoney/articles/drycleaning.cfm.

Gary Crone, owner of Comet Cleaners and Laundry, advertises his business as “environmentally friendly.” Perhaps a more accurate description would be “environmentally friendlier.”

Crone purchased Comet Cleaners almost five years ago. The business had never used PERC as a solvent since it opened in the mid-90s. Crone said his biggest concern is “putting out a safe product.”

Comet Cleaners uses DF-2000 as a solvent and purchased a new machine last year, which reuses the solvent. DF-2000 is a hydrocarbon solvent produced by ExxonMobil. Crone plans on taking a class on wet cleaning in Denver in the spring.

Thirty percent of Comet’s business is laundry and Crone said he will begin using a locally distributed sustainable line of laundry products in January. The products are better for the environment and cost less. According to Crone, the industry is generally moving away from PERC.

However, not all local dry cleaners have jumped on the anti-PERC bandwagon.

North Avenue Cleaners has been in business for 61 years. Owner Terry Boggs gave me a lesson about the science of dry cleaning. Getting stains out of fabric is a complicated business and Boggs said his company is “doing our absolute best with the available technology.” For the time being that includes using PERC with a special carbon-absorbing machine.

Kathy Sassano, co-owner of Village Cleaners, does not have a problem with PERC. She and her husband have been working with the solvent for 30 years with no health issues.

Sassano explained her frustration with the anti-PERC movement: “It’s just a bunch of environmentalists with nothing better to do than intrude on people’s lives.” In her opinion, PERC does a good job of cleaning fabrics and the alternatives are not as effective.

Mike and Janine Sitz bought Holiday Cleaners in 2004. They understand the frustration felt by some peers but made a decision to stop using PERC, a transition that took about two years.

For the past six months Holiday Cleaners has used a non-hazardous product called DrySolv.

The business uses about 20 gallons of the solvent a month.

“We try to do the right thing. I keep my eye on available technology and use the most appropriate process for what comes in,” Mike Sitz said. This includes small amounts of wet cleaning, which he has learned from classes.

According to Sitz, wet cleaning can be as simple as a bucket or utilizing specially designed machines. The process does not solve all problems and involves labor-intensive finishing.

Holiday Cleaners has saved money in energy costs by purchasing Energy Star equipment.

Don Oswald, of Denver, is one of the owners of Natural Cleaners, formerly Fabricare. The company bought the Grand Junction location in August and is in the process of upgrading the entire plant.

Natural Cleaners owns several cleaners around Colorado, including a facility in Vail with a liquid carbon dioxide machine. The Grand Junction facility is using a solvent called GreenEarth.

For regular laundry, they use an environmentally friendly line of products from Germany. Oswald said they plan to install a wet cleaning machine in Grand Junction during the first quarter of 2009.

Palisade Cleaners has used a hydrocarbon set up for the two years it has been owned by Aaron Martin and his wife. They also use nontoxic, biodegradable laundry products.

There are no easy solutions to the dry cleaning dilemma in our valley. Currently, a number of “less toxic” alternatives to PERC exist. Wet cleaning is developing a presence, while liquid carbon dioxide may ultimately prove too costly for the area.

Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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