How to clean green
This article is part 4 of a 4 part series on "Greening your college life." Read part 1, part 2 and part 3.
As a college student, I know first-hand that it can seem difficult to lead a sustainable life in college. Dorm buildings are often less energy efficient, recycling options might be limited, and students don't have extra money to splurge on eco-friendly products.
However, even if you live in an older building — and even if you're not in college — it's still possible to make a difference and have a positive environmental impact.
The cleaning products you use can have an immense effect on your air quality as well as your physical health. By knowing what to buy, any college student can learn how to clean green and create a better living environment. Here are two simple things that you can do.
Out with the old
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the quality of air inside of homes can be as much as two to five times worse than the air outside. In fact the average home has over 1,500 hazardous compounds which can be linked to serious diseases like allergies, cancer, and other abnormalities.
A large part of these facts is due to the harmfulness of traditional household cleaners. Many cleaners are petroleum based, or contain chlorine bleach which is not friendly on the lungs or skin. Those harmful chemicals not only harm the people who use them, but can also seep into the water supply, which can have disastrous effects on wildlife and other natural resources. These cleaners are also are not easily recyclable and can wreak havoc on the landfills they eventually contaminate. Overall, cleaning products that contain formaldehyde, chlorine, dioxane, and other alcohols are harmful to the people who use them as well as the environment. You and your roommates can check your city’s website for a “hazardous waste disposal day” so you can drop off the remnants of any synthetic cleaners you might have.
Know what to buy
So you’ve decided to stop using traditional chemical cleaners in your dorm or apartment, now what? Students need to know what to look for when purchasing new products. A hydrogen-peroxide based cleaner can work just as well on mold, mildew, and removing stains as traditional chlorine bleach.
Something that is currently popular in the market is greenwashing, which means making a misleading claim to make a product seem more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Words like "biodegradable," "safer," and "green" mean essentially nothing. Instead, look for products that say "chlorine-free." This can be a good indicator of an item’s environmental friendliness. Labels that say “fragrance free” and “phosphate free” are also good signs, and are much more substantial than labels that just say organic or natural. Products that are certified by a third party like the EPA, Green Seal or PETA also hold significant credibility.
Cleaning green through LEED
LEED also takes environmental cleaners seriously, and offers a “Green cleaning - purchase of sustainable cleaning products and materials” credit that “reduces the environmental effects of cleaning products, disposable janitorial paper products, and trash bags.” The credit requires buildings to implement sustainable purchasing methods for bathroom, glass and carpet cleaners that are Green Seal approved and Environmental Choice cleaners for other hard surfaces and carpets.
The goal is for any LEED certified building to limit the toxins that are polluting the air and produce a healthier living environment for those who occupy the space. Getting rid of pollutants is all about knowing what to buy and what to avoid, and any college student can improve their apartment or dorm by learning how to clean green.