Guest Editorial: Small Changes Matter

Especially when greening shops

Change rarely comes easily - especially when tried-and-true routines have worked for decades. But sometimes, small changes can improve efficiency, reduce waste volumes and minimize environmental impact.

Because fleet vehicles are filled with various fluids, leaks, drips and spills are all fairly common occurrences that can lead to slippery floors and downtime associated with clean-up efforts. Loose absorbents, such as cat litter and other clay-based compounds are a typical solution to deal with these situations.

Some of the problems with these loose absorbents are that they are heavy, dusty and not very efficient. Contained absorbents, like mats, socks and pillows often cost a little more to purchase, but have a much greater affinity for absorbing fluids quickly and with less manpower.

One absorbent mat, for example, is often capable of absorbing up to a quart of spilled liquids. It takes over 10 pounds of clay-based loose absorbent to do the same job. Clean up time is also minimized with contained absorbents because there is no shoveling or sweeping, as is the amount of space needed to store the spent absorbent materials prior to disposal.

Shop towels are another similar item that is commonly used in many shops. Because they are often part of a laundering service, some people tend to view them to be a better solution than disposable wipers. An EPA commissioned study found, however, that spent absorbent wipers account for less than 1 percent of landfilled wastes, and that they do not present a significant environment hazard when landfilled.

By contrast, the process of laundering shop towels often releases contaminants from the towels into water treatment systems that are incapable of completely removing the contaminants. As a result, they can pass through the treatment system and can cause pollution in water bodies.

Disposable wipers are available in many different varieties and are designed to be task-specific. That means that wipers are available for nearly every task from hand-wiping to auto detailing preparation.

Brake cleaner, lubricants and degreasers are all examples of commonly used maintenance products supplied in aerosol cans. Because the cans remain pressurized even after they are “empty,” many facilities need to handle and dispose of them as hazardous waste, with prices commonly ranging from $200 to $400 per drum for disposal.

For shops that use a lot of aerosols, specially designed can puncturing or can crushing units may help minimize disposal costs. The units are capable of capturing fugitive air emissions from the punctured or crushed cans, and they also have the added benefit of turning the can into recyclable scrap steel.

Petroleum-based solvents are well-known for their ability to remove oil and grease from parts, making switching to alternative cleaners a hard choice. Fortunately, many parts washing service contractors are able to filter the solvent in a parts washer on-site to give it greater longevity, which helps minimize waste volume.

For some applications, traditional solvents may truly be necessary. For lighter-duty cleaning, however; citrus-based cleaning products may provide a more environmentally-friendly cleaning solution.

Consider other products that are commonly disposed of as well. For example, used oil might be useful to someone else in town that has an on-site oil burner.

Some communities have entities that collect leftover paint for non-profit groups to use for base coats or to cover graffiti.

Many recycling options that didn’t exist ten years ago are becoming more popular and economical today. The local solid waste authority - usually a county or regional entity - is typically an excellent resource for finding recycling options that are available locally and at little or not cost. Using them as a resource can help increase “green” efforts.

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