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Making cleaning more sustainable

Sustainability is about living our lives, and meeting our needs, in a way that doesn’t undermine the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Once safety is assured, making cleaning more sustainable is primarily about getting things clean using less resources such as materials and energy for each job, and minimising emissions and waste.

Of course, it’s essential that in doing the cleaning with less we maintain a good level of performance. To be resource efficient, products must get things properly clean first time. If not, that could mean re-washing, or sometimes people overdose to try to compensate. Either way, the use of resources goes up rather than down.

Cleaning supports so many aspects of sustainability, and poor performance can undermine health and wellbeing and lead to items wearing out more quickly. Cleaning keeps everything fit for use so it can be used time after time after time. Imagine how resources would dwindle if we threw clothes, dishes and furniture out when they got dirty and bought new ones! And a poor cleaning product is neither value for money for the user nor likely to be viable in the long term for the manufacturer.

The whole life cycle of a product

Resources such as materials, energy and water are used at many different stages of the “life cycle” of a cleaning product, from manufacture of the product, through transport and storage in the shops, to the point at which it is used for cleaning and the spent cleaning solutions and packaging disposed of after use. Improving sustainability means finding ways of making an overall improvement across the whole life cycle. For example, devising a product that took less energy to manufacture would make no sense if it needed twice as much to transport and use.

To help sort out all the swings and roundabouts, there’s a technique called “life cycle analysis” (LCA). LCA studies show that for most cleaning jobs in the home, the key resources consumed are:

  • Raw materials to make the product’s ingredients
  • Packaging to keep it safe, intact and easy-to-use from manufacture until it’s all been used
  • Energy to manufacture both product and packaging, transport them to the shops, and to heat water or run washing machines during the cleaning job itself
  • Water, at all the same stages from cradle to grave

Sustainability — the big picture

Ensuring that the development of human society becomes sustainable for the long-term is a vital goal for the 21st century. To make sense of the big picture, it helps to think about things under three key headings — economic, social and environmental.

So, thinking about cleaning the home for example:

  • Economic sustainability means having products and equipment that are affordable for those who use them as well as financially viable and providing stable employment for the people and companies who make them.
  • Social sustainability is about health and wellbeing — cleaning protects our health by removing harmful germs or allergens, and contributes to our wellbeing by keeping our homes and clothes attractive and comfortable. But cleaning mustn’t harm health — products and equipment must be safe for users and safely manufactured so they don’t harm the workers who make them.
  • Environmental sustainability is about living within the resources of the planet and making sure the environment and wildlife are not harmed, either when they are made or when they are used and disposed of after use.

Myth Busters

Did you know the facts behind this common myth?

Myth: Chemicals in cleaning products can harm your health

Fact: Properly formulated cleaning products and air fresheners do not harm people’s health when used as directed. They are regulated and risk-assessed to make sure this does not happen.

UKCPI cleansmart guide

A handwashing and cleanliness programme for Infant Groups.

Download now
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