The case for sustainable cleaning has never been clearer at a time when COVID-19 has put the spotlight on environmentally friendly but affordable cleaning and waste-management services.
As the nation’s star cricketers strut their stuff during clashes at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a more low-key team goes about its job behind the scenes that makes a real difference to patrons and the environment.
Quayclean, a national cleaning services and waste-management company, has a contract with the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust that includes creating sustainable recycling solutions. One of the jobs for its cleaners on match day is diligently picking up discarded bottles as part of a container deposit scheme.
CEO Mark Piwkowski estimates Quayclean’s bottle-collection operation provides rebates in the order of $60,000 as part of a number of annual recycling savings.
He says the program demonstrates how smart recycling can actually deliver a revenue stream for sites, rather than having to always pay for waste collection.
Too often, he adds, the assumption is that the major waste transporters alone are the key to sustainability.
“Of course, they can contribute to waste separation,” Piwkowski says.
“But, ultimately, if you don’t get the strategy right on-site you’ll have contaminated waste ending up in landfill as the waste providers cannot separate contaminated waste, particularly dry waste contaminated with wet waste.”
Piwkowski says Quayclean has been committed to sustainability and measures to protect and preserve the environment across all its operations.
“Working closely with our partners, we can have a real impact.”
Growing momentum for green operations
Quayclean is part of a rising movement within the cleaning and cleaning-services sector that is striving to be greener and more environmentally friendly.
The view is that operating in a more sustainable way can generate benefits around brand reputation, revenue and client attraction and retention.
As operators seek to cut down on the use of harsh chemicals and use less paper, plastic and fuel, the industry is also responding to customer demands for greener products and a commitment to sustainability from its service providers.
It is a call that Alan Selcuk, director of Eclipse Floor Solutions, is hearing loudly and clearly at his Brisbane-based cleaning business.
“Sustainability is always on our mind,” says Selcuk, who notes that the business has new and improved battery buffers on the way.
Across Eclipse’s buffer, stripping and burnisher machinery, the goal is to deliver greater fuel efficiency and lower carbon monoxide emissions.
In line with that aim, Selcuk says Eclipse has been able to change its oil-change servicing regime from every 50 hours to every 250 hours.
“They now have long-life oil in the machines and that in itself goes a long way to being more environmentally friendly.”
Solaris Paper is an Australian-operated and managed company that distributes high-quality toilet and tissue products paper. It is part of a triumvirate of companies that includes The Sorbent Paper Company and Cottonsoft.
Director of Corporate Affairs Steve Nicholson says ssustainability has been a crucial issue for Solaris Paper since its inception in Australia in 2010.
“We exclusively source only 100 per cent virgin sustainable fibre for our products,” he says.
“We’re constantly striving to find the balance between efficient and effective products that are good for the environment and for our customers and their customers, across toilet paper, hand and kitchen towel, facial tissues and wipes.”
As part of one of the largest pulp and paper companies in the world, Nicholson says Solaris Paper has an edge in so much as its competitors typically buy pulp on the open market. “This provides us with absolute confidence in our products coming from legally and sustainable sources.”
The company’s strategic supply partner, APP, manages the certified sustainable plantations and the pulp-making facility through to the production and distribution of the finished goods, which guarantees supply and allows for greater control of the process.
“APP is planting one million trees a day, every day for sustainable supply, with zero deforestation and zero illegal logging. That is true sustainability in paper.”
Adopting a greener mindset
Within the cleaning industry, the sustainability cause has many different facets.
The use of greener chemicals and cleaning products is seen as being safer for environmental and human health.
Simple changes such as embracing washable microfibre mop heads and cloths result in the use of less water and laundering materials. And a mentality of reducing, reusing and recycling waste is increasingly in vogue.
Piwkowski says Quayclean has had no hesitation in making sustainability one of the pillars of its operations.
“It’s the right thing to do in terms of how we are going to live in the future.”
The emphasis has been on adopting a sustainability mindset. With waste, the company has at every turn tried to understand the possible end markets so that it can be recycled to best effect. What happens with bottles at sports grounds and other facilities? How should contaminated food packaging be treated? Where does eco-friendly packaging such as BioPak fit into the overall picture?
“What I regard as our skill is being up to date all the time on what is changing in the marketplace and responding accordingly,” Piwkowski says.
Such agility can also pay off financially. He notes that Quayclean, pandemic or no pandemic, has had a record-breaking year, even though a significant proportion of its portfolio involves working in venues such as major stadiums, racecourses and entertainment facilities – all of which have suffered from the impact of pandemic-related lockdowns at some point during the past 12 months.
Product innovation to the fore
In the paper industry, Nicholson says there is a constant search for more efficient products so that consumers use less paper, thereby saving on cost and the environment while still delivering strength and softness.
TAD (through air dried) technology continues to evolve and is used particularly for hand towel and kitchen towel, giving superior absorbency, strength when wet or dry, and a ‘soft hand feel’ – the upshot being that one or two towels will do the job instead of dry crepe products that might require four or more towels for the same task.
“The use of different base papers embosses and ply bonding lamination continues to provide more bulk to paper without needing to use more fibre, which again achieves efficiency with quality – satisfying both the consumer and the business that buys it,” Nicholson says.
Selcuk says seemingly simple machinery and chemical innovations can make a real difference to sustainable practices. For example, stripper-machine chemicals are far more dilutable now.
Whereas the norm before was to dilute strippers up to a maximum of one part stripper to eight parts water, the formula is now 1-20 for heavy-duty jobs and even greater dilutions for lighter tasks.
When polishing floors, a total of six to eight coats used to be required, whereas superior products now mean that just one base coat and three top coats are required. “So it’s reduced the usage by almost half, which helps our customers and the environment.”
The market outlook
Like many cleaning services operations, Eclipse has been performing well and expects to finish the year strongly.
“We’re certainly holding our own, but we have areas where we’re suffering,” Selkuc says.
Shopping centre lockdowns in hard-hit Melbourne, for example, have caused issues and some orders have had to be held back as a consequence.
Selcuk has no doubt that taking a serious approach to sustainability will help on many fronts. At the same time, he warns building owners and cleaners operating in high-risk areas such as hospitals and healthcare sites against cutting corners to save costs.
“If you’re a cleaning company and you’ve been employed to do a deep-clean at a COVID site, use reputable products and make sure your team members are safe.”
“Cleaners and facility managers are always looking for bargains, but this is not a time where the emphasis is just on saving a few dollars.”
Nicholson says the key challenges for the cleaning and facilities management sector will continue to be potential lockdowns and uncertainty of supply because of the global shipping crisis, which has seen costs for a container rise four-fold in the past two years.
“Overall, the next year or two will no doubt still be variable and uncertain; however businesses are already on their toes, ready to respond and pivot when the next curve ball is thrown.”
Despite COVID-19 challenges, Piwkowski believes there are positive signs for cleaning services operators.
“Overall, the cleaning industry, particularly, should come out of this pandemic very strongly.”
Ultimately, he believes sports-loving Aussies will want to get back to attending a football, cricket or horse-racing event, or embracing other entertainment options. That is good news for Quayclean, but it also puts the pressure on his team to get things right.
“Our job is to work with our customers to make sure we have a solution for how we keep their sites clean and ensure their people are as safe as possible.”
To promote sustainability even more in the years to come, Quayclean believes education will be critical – for clients and staff.
There is a perception, according to CEO Mark Piwkowski, that the average Joe in the street is the problem when it comes to recycling. They may throw a half-eaten carton of hot chips into a bin at a sports venue or put some inappropriate materials in recycling.
However, for real change to occur, Piwkowski says the property or catering departments, the events team, or the grounds and horticultural teams also have to step up.
“If they don’t manage the waste well in the first place, that’s where most of the damage is done. So educating the customer is critical.”
The staff at cleaning companies also have to be up to speed with the latest practices.
“We have to lift to expectations in not only how we train our own staff, but how we keep abreast of the latest information about hygiene products or sustainable solutions that contribute to better environmental outcomes,” Piwkowski says.
“Every little thing we do is going to have an important impact.”
This article first appeared in the September/October issue of INCLEAN magazine
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