Thursday, July 21, 2011

Getting clean without getting dirty

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, published under the title "Being clean can harm: our dirty little secret"

As a teen, I saw the “Law of Conservation of Dirt” on a friend’s fridge: “To get anything clean, you must get something else dirty. But you can get everything dirty without getting anything clean.”

It’s wry wit stuck with me for 25 years, but I have since realized an unintended, underlying truth: the harm we do to our Earth, and ourselves, in the name of “cleaning” is a dirty little secret. Harsh chemicals used to remove spots, stains or smudges get in our water supply; fragrances added to give a “clean” smell can harm our bodies; antibacterial additives in our soaps contribute to the evolution of untreatable “supergerms”.

Of course, the other dirty secret is the energy we spend creating and transporting chemicals, then disposing of them in our sewage treatment plants after use. Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve these problems all at once? Perhaps we can.

For years our family has used home-made cleansers based on simple grocery-store items like vinegar and baking soda. We’ve found them just as good at scouring counters and floors as the latest “new and improved” chemical/fragrance blend. But if you’re not a home mixer, a growing variety of environmentally-friendly non-toxic cleaners are on store shelves, pre-mixed and customized for dishes, windows, toilets, or whatever else needs cleaning.

But we spend much of our time outside the home, at school or work, in shopping centres, offices, or hospitals. How they clean affects both our health and our planet, yet they must also meet strict standards of cleanliness and can’t take chances with unproven products.

Well, the good news is there are green methods for industrial cleaning, too. One local distributor is Barrie’s Superior Solutions, who are hosting their first annual “Green Cleaning Solutions Open House” this coming Monday, July 25th. From 9 to 4 at Fendley Hall, 565 Bryne Drive, you’ll be able to meet experts on a number of affordable green options for cleaning your business or workplace, and try a “hands on” experience with their products.

You will see such things as a stand-on floor polisher which uses your own weight instead of heavy machinery, and is better for your back, too. You can learn about systems using special microfibre cloths and water to clean effectively without any chemicals at all. There are all manner of sustainable cleaning supplies and specialized non-toxic cleansers, concentrated to reduce shipping emissions. You can even try floor mats made from recycled plastic, to keep water and dirt away in the first place!

There will also be free refreshments and door prizes, including lunch and a round of golf for 2 at Tangle Creek. Where else could you have such fun talking dirty?

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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