School cleaning products go green
If there’s one thing Sheila Larkins hates, it’s dirty windows.
“I see a dirty window, and I have to clean it,” said the Knoxville High School day custodian. And she has her preferences when cleaning those windows. A product can’t leave streaks on the glass. Sometimes, she uses paper towels from the restrooms to wipe off the cleaner, equating its effectiveness to newspaper.
And just when she thinks she’s gotten it all figured out, a new state law changes the way she works.
The Green Cleaning Schools Act, signed into law by Governor Rod Blagojevich on Aug. 13, 2007, mandates all Illinois schools purchase certified-green cleaning products in six categories — bathroom cleaners; carpet cleaners; general purpose and hard floor surface cleaners; glass, window and mirror cleaners; hand cleaners and hand soaps; and paper products — after May 9.
Illinois is only the second state to implement such a law. New York was first, with much more stringent stipulations.
Schools may use any remaining non-green cleaners they have on hand after May 9, but all new purchases after that time must be green. Many schools, in order to offset the potential increase in costs, have joined cooperatives allowing them to purchase supplies directly from manufacturers.
Galesburg District 205 has signed one such agreement, joining up with AmSan.
“They do all this training (of custodial staff and) we give them a fair share of buying, probably, 90 percent of the products from them,” said Roger Robinson, District 205 director of buildings and grounds. The district’s agreement, however, is not binding, as any of the roughly 175 school districts involved can opt out at any time.
As anyone who tries to buy green products knows, what’s better for the environment may not be better for the pocketbook. With decreases in state funding and local economies taking a downturn, school districts also face tight budgets with very little room for expansion in the price of cleaning products.
Robinson thinks the initial costs of replacing dispensers and other items will be fairly high, but the fact that the cleaners are concentrates will offset those increases. In addition, he believes that, by joining the agreement with AmSan, all member districts will get a better price since the company will be selling in bulk.
Paring down the number of different cleaners to be purchased also will cut costs. “I will probably be using four products to clean with” under the new green mandates, he said, “where before I was using eight or 10.”
Green cleaning does not just mean that schools will begin using more environmentally-friendly products, though. They will also be using products with fewer chemicals, which will create a healthier environment for those in the building. Part of joining the partnership with AmSan was a full audit of cleaning practices in district buildings, and Robinson received a report on ways to make the environment more healthy for students.
Although the new state law will require some significant changes in the way area districts operate their custodial departments, many have already made a few crucial changes which will ease the burden come May 9. Both District 205 and Knoxville District 202 have been using approved paper products and foam soaps for some time now. District 202 has been slowly integrating some of its green products, such as window cleaners.
Larkins’ supply room in KHS already features a new dispenser, with four cleaning fluids in concentrate hooked up to a water line. Chemicals are automatically mixed in different solutions to suit the job.
And while both she and Robinson agree the new system takes the guesswork out of mixing cleaning products and will, eventually, save districts money, they think green products still have a ways to go before they are as effective as widely-used chemicals.
“They don’t clean as well,” Larkins said of the products moving into her storeroom, but “the vendor can come and make them stronger if we complain about them not cleaning as well.
“I think this new green law is going to change a lot of things. I’ll do anything as long as it will work. If it doesn’t work, my school district can’t afford to waste the time.”
Michelle Anstett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green Cleaning Schools Act — The Particulars
- Signed into law by Gov. Blagojevich Aug. 13, 2007
- Goes into effect May 9, 2008
- Schools are required to purchase certified green products in six categories: Bathroom cleaners; carpet cleaners; general purpose and hard floor surface cleaners; glass, window and mirror cleaners; hand cleaners and hand soaps; and paper products.
- Products not conforming to green standards may be used after May 9, but schools must order replacement green products.
- If a district can’t afford to buy green products, it can apply to the state for exemption on a yearly basis.
- Many area districts already use green paper products and foam soap.
- The four cleaning chemical categories are sold in concentrate and mixed with water in different amounts.