Taking Strides in Reducing Water Consumption

Historically, the United States has had an abundance of water. The country has about 4.5 percent of the world’s population, but nearly 8 percent of its renewable freshwater.

While there have been serious droughts in the United States, including the great Dust Bowl, which dried up huge areas of the Midwest and northern plains in the early- to mid-1930s, it was not until the late 1970s and again in the 1980s that the water wake-up call sounded.

Droughts in the 70s and 80s

In 1977 and then again in the late 1980s, California was hit by two very serious droughts. The first one only lasted about one year. But, if it had lasted longer, the state would have essentially gone dry.

The drought in the late 1980s was a bit less severe, but still resulted in some of the first water restrictions ever passed in the country. These restrictions required toilet manufacturers to reduce the amount of water their fixtures used to 1.6 gallons per flush down from 2 to more than 3 gallons per flush. Urinals were restricted to about one gallon, which was also a significant reduction.

The Result: Technology Improvements

These droughts and regulations became the impetus for manufacturers to come up with new technologies to reduce the amount of water in products we use. For instance, a recent report by the non-profit Alliance for Water Efficiency compares water-using products we use every day in homes and offices with how much water these products used in the 1980s. Among the report’s findings are the following:

  • Commercial faucets showed an 86 percent reduction (from 3.5 to .5 gallons per minute) in the amount of water used in 2015 compared to the 1980s.
  • Commercial toilets showed a 68 percent reduction (from 5 to 1.6 gallons per minute) in the amount of water used in 2015 compared to the 1980s.
  • Urinals showed a 67 percent reduction (from 14 to 5 gallons per cycle) in the amount of water used in 2015 compared to the 1980s.

Impacting the Professional Cleaning Industry

Almost 30 years ago when manufacturers began introducing portable low-moisture carpet extractors, the goals were to address environmental issues and encourage greater customer satisfaction with faster drying times.

However, in order to build the machines, manufacturers had to either improve the vacuum systems on the extractors so the equipment could remove more moisture or reduce the amount of water the machines used in the first place.

However, what many manufacturers did was a combination of both. Traditional carpet extractors were using 1.5 or more gallons of water per minute. This means a 60-minute carpet cleaning job could easily use up to 100 gallons of water. With machines that consumed less than 1 gallon of water per minute, those numbers could be brought down to 50 to 60 gallons.

Similarly, equipment sometimes referred to as low-moisture floor machines have also helped reduce water consumption. An example of low-moisture equipment is cylindrical brush floor machines. These machines use as much as 30 percent less water than a comparable rotary floor machine, simply by the way they work and their designed.

Even microfiber cloths and mop heads have helped the industry use less water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), water use is cut by 95 percent when using a microfiber mop head compared to a traditional string mop.

How to Practice Water Reduction

Beyond these technologies, there are ways cleaning professionals can help reduce the amount of water used in cleaning, and help the facilities they clean use less water. Among them are the following:

  • If a hose must be used to clean, do not use an open hose. Instead, use a spray gun that ensures water releases only when necessary.
  • If using a nozzle on a hose, change the nozzle every few months. Orifices on nozzles become wider as they are used, causing the nozzle to use considerably more water.
  • When cleaning commercial kitchens, a wall-mounted chemical/water-dispensing system can be very effective; however, these systems can release more than 10 gallons of water per minute— 600 gallons in an hour.
  • Encapsulation and other dry carpet cleaning systems use no water at all and can help delay carpet extraction by several months.
  • Use chemical dilution systems; while these systems were designed to monitor chemical use, they also monitor water use and can ensure to use enough water only to address the cleaning task at hand.
  • Suggest that facility managers conduct a water audit; a water audit can show where water is being used, misused, or can be used more efficiently.
  • Take a leading role in educating your customers and building users on ways to reduce consumption; this helps build customer loyalty, and using water more efficiently is something all build users must do.

Where it All Stands

Does all this good news mean we are out of the woods when it comes to water shortages in the United States? No. We are far from it. Climate change is having a big impact on water resources. Some areas of the country are experiencing more severe droughts than ever before. Even in water-rich areas of the country, due to warmer temperatures, the rate of evaporation has increased.

While we have made significant progress in reducing water consumption during the past 30 years, we are, at this time, in the second wave of water efficiency. The third wave, which is right around the corner, is going to result in more technologies, procedures, and products that can help us reduce water consumption far more than we have so far.

Patient Care at Stake When Moving Processed Healthcare Linen

Training of drivers and on-site delivery personnel necessary, says expert

CHICAGO — After linens and textiles are processed, it’s important that the goods remain clean from the laundry to the customer or to the shelf—and to the end-user.

Clean transport is even more important when it comes to healthcare linens.

“If your healthcare organization and those in the laundry industry are not doing known, evidence-based clean procedures at 100%, that could have an impact on the patient level,” says Dr. Fontaine Sands, an associate professor at Eastern Kentucky University.

In other words, if hygienically clean healthcare linens aren’t transported and moved properly, they could become contaminated and possibly lead to patient infection.

Appropriate transportation systems, packaging/storage means and handling methods are key to maintain the cleanliness of healthcare linens.

According to Randy Wendland, CLLM, corporate director textile management services/TSR at ABM Healthcare Support Services in St. Clair Shores, Mich., the integrity of clean linen starts within the processing plant—the laundry.

Wendland says that processes must be in place to ensure cleanliness of work areas, processing stations, finishing equipment and material-handling devices.

“Quality is the issue,” Sands says. “Do you know what you are supposed to do? Are you doing it every single time?”

An important step in the process is to keep processed healthcare linens covered.

“After clean linens have been placed in bulk containers or exchange carts, properly sized, impervious covers need to be utilized to ensure 100% coverage during transportation,” Wendland says.

He stresses that whether the linens are being transported to the end-users from off site or on premises, proper container covers must be utilized to ensure that no contaminants are introduced to the clean linens. Also, Wendland says if reusable covers are used, a cleaning process must be used for them on a pre-established frequency.

Jeff Scott, manager of on-site services for Ecotex Healthcare Laundry Services based in Washington state, agrees that it is important to ensure that all clean linens are delivered in a sanitized cart and that the linens remain covered from the point of assembly to point of use.

“Ecotex has found that clean and sanitized laundry carts combined with a plastic cover have proven the most effective means of meeting these guidelines,” says Scott. “We sanitize all laundry carts and transport vehicles between uses, every time. In addition, all laundry carts are covered immediately after assembly at our various plants.”

When it comes to transporting clean healthcare linens from an outside laundry to the healthcare facility, transportation methods vary slightly. However, generally speaking, says Scott, healthcare linen needs to be protected from outside contamination, and vehicles need to be sanitized between loads.

Scott says that the journey between plants and the end-users can be challenging. Vibration and outside influences can cause linen to shift or even fall off packaged containers.

“Goods fall off of shipping containers in transit due to vibration or improper loading. Items are sometimes placed on clean-linen carts once delivered to the customer that are inappropriate and may cause contamination,” Scott says.

He stresses that great care needs to be taken to ensure processed linens are loaded in a neat and orderly fashion and are securely placed in delivery vehicles. Scott says that his company trains its drivers and on-site delivery personnel to immediately report any incidents and to immediately place into soiled-linen containers any item that they feel may have been contaminated.

“This includes returning entire shipments if there is a chance of contamination,” he says.

When the clean linen gets to the client, storage remains a challenge due to space restrictions in some cases, according to Scott.

“It is imperative to communicate with our customers regarding storage at point of use. Once clean linen is delivered to its intended destination, the provider loses control over its ultimate cleanliness,” he says. “Whenever possible, we recommend self-contained storage that is not open to the general public.”

Some of the challenges Wendland sees on-site when it comes to maintaining the integrity of clean healthcare linens in transport include wire racks and exchange carts stationed in corridors and open nurse server storage areas.

“I’m always concerned with properly fitted covers used on wire-rack exchange carts, as well as after-market solid bottoms,” he says. “Also, Velcro closures versus zippers. Velcro does not make an impervious barrier.

“Nurse server storage areas permit excessive opportunities for many hands to be touching and potentially contaminating the linens.”

Wendland is seeing progress being made in on-site transportation and storage concerns at healthcare facilities. More solid poly carts are being used in place of wire racks, he’s noticed. Also, he has seen that wire racks are being re-tasked for either non-movable storage or non-linen items.

“Where possible, exchange carts were relocated in a more secure area other than in corridors,” Wendland says. “Nurse servers continue to be a challenge.”

If a laundry is having difficulty maintaining clean healthcare linen during transportation, how can it correct the problem?

“I would have to ask about the transport method and the route,” says Wendland. “What are the factors contributing to the problem? Are they mechanical, environmental, procedural or human? From that point, it will be easier to diagnose, then solve the problem.”

“Ecotex is a fully HLAC-accredited laundry, as well we hold [TRSA] Hygienically Clean certification. This means that all phases of our operation are closely monitored, analyzed and recorded,” says Scott. “We believe that our customers benefit from these accreditations and certifications as a means of ensuring that all guidelines are followed and that goods arrive ready for use. This applies directly to how we transport goods.”

When it comes to transporting clean healthcare linen, Wendland focuses less on accreditation and more on employee training.

“There is concern regarding laundries being ‘accredited,’ yet there is minimal credentialing requirements for the leaders and managers of laundries or linen distribution departments. The best way to ensure that the integrity of the linens is maintained from ‘processing to end-user’ is to have trained and knowledgeable employees,” he says.