A Green Kind of Clean

In a sea of Birkenstocks, local farmers markets and awareness-raising bumper stickers, it comes as no surprise to most that the community of New Paltz holds the environment in high regard.

“Sustainability doesn’t take breaks, you know?” said Brian Pine, the director of Facilities Operations and Maintenance at SUNY New Paltz.

The college uses all Green Seal and biodegradable cleaning products in campus building. Green Seal is a non-profit environmental certification program that was formed in 1989 to help shoppers identify green products.

“It’s absolutely important to make the environment as safe and healthy as possible,” said Pine. “It creates a better learning environment. That’s the purpose; that’s why you’re all here.”

Green Seal products in use on campus today include disinfectants, tub and tile cleaners, all purpose cleaners, glass cleaner, floor stripper and finish, and carpet cleaner. Each vacuum is also fitted with Green Seal certified HEPA filters. All paper products used on campus, including toilet paper and paper towels, are made of recycled materials.

“I use vinegar to clean the windows. It’s hard to find a good green product to clean glass,” Sue Peone, a custodian who has been working at SUNY New Paltz for four years, said. “But I’m perfectly satisfied using distilled white vinegar.”

Custodians are no longer allowed to use bleach, according to Peone.

“Many people think that using cleaning products with a lot of chemicals in them are more effective but they are not,” said Kelly Drummond, president of Recycling Club. “The environmentally-friendly cleaners have the same cleaning power but are free of harsh chemicals and also do not have that intense chemical smell.”

Sometimes, custodians need to use stronger chemicals especially when there is a concern about health or safety, Pine said.

The college website states that it began using Green Seal products prior to an executive order made by former Governor George Pataki in 2005. Pataki’s Executive Order 134 decreed that all state agencies must use cleaning products that minimize potential harmful impacts to people and the environment.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.), using cleaning products that have “positive environmental attributes,” like green products, can improve air quality, reduce water and air pollution, and minimize harmful effects to custodial workers and people who are inside the building that is cleaned with those products.

Green products can be more expensive, says Pine, and staying at the level of sustainability the college is at now is a balancing act between competing values, time constraints, money, and resources.

“These products are not always economically better,” he said, “but they will make it better for people in the future.”

Buying environmentally friendly cleaning products may be less expensive in some situations because they are easier to dispose of after use than their hazardous counterparts, the E.P.A. states.

Also, the cost of such cleaning products has become more competitive with conventional products, reports ABM, one of the largest facility management services providers in the U.S., especially when other factors are considered. For example, a conventional product that is extremely high in alkaline could burn a custodian, which would result in additional medical and sick leave costs, according to ABM, and these increased operating costs may be passed on to the facility.

“Students shouldn’t be swayed from buying green for themselves based on the price tag”, said Drummond.

Drummond said she knows the drawback for many eco-friendly items is the price, but notes that recently, the prices of such chemical-free cleaners have dramatically decreased, and often are on sale at the grocery store.

“I would encourage all students to look for more environmentally-friendly cleaners,” Drummond said, “because if it has the same, effective power as ones with the harsh chemicals, then why not use the cleaners that are better for the environment?”

For more information about recycling, sustainability and green efforts at SUNY New Paltz, visit http://greenthinking.newpaltz.edu/. For information about what you can do to go green, visit http://www.newpaltz.edu/green/whatcanido.html.


Kathryn Eileen Miecznikowski

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