Cleaning, Oatmeal, Liners, and Cost Savings
Trash cans are traditionally located at every workstation in an office setting. For a small office, they may number as few as 10, all lined with plastic liners. For a large corporate center with thousands of workers, there very likely are several thousand trash cans – once again, all lined with plastic liners that need to be changed two or three times per week, if not more; that’s a lot of plastics liners.
While trash liners are not necessarily a costly item for a small to moderate sized office, in a large facility with many workers, it becomes a significant cost factor. Further, if a facility is sustainability focused, as more and more are becoming, finding ways to reduce the number of plastic liners used on an annual basis will help a building make a sizable dent in its environmental footprint.
When it comes to the use of plastic liners, managers should know that the latest version of LEED (V4) does not require the use of recycled or recyclable liners. The reasoning behind this decision, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, which is the developer of the LEED program and whose environmental policies are often adopted in Canada and around the world, is that manufacturers have simply not been able to develop recycled or recyclable liners that are dependable and durable enough to be used in commercial facilities.
But trash liners, used in commercial facilities as well as in grocery and retail stores, can have a detrimental impact on the environment. According to the Worldwatch Institute, nearly 300 million tons of plastic were produced in 2013, much of it used as trash liners, ending up in landfills around the globe. Further, building owners and managers should be aware of the following:
Some reports indicate that plastic liners can take more than 300 years to fully decompose in a landfill.
As plastic liners decompose, they can release methane gas. According to Environment Canada, landfills are responsible for as much as 20 percent of the country’s national methane gas emissions.
Related to this, some liners considered “environmentally friendly” are still petroleum-based, made of a number of petrochemicals; these liners still can take several years to decay and release methane emissions in the degrading process.
Liner Reduction Implementation
Because there can be so many “win-wins” if a facility, especially a large facility, can reduce the number of trash liners used, many organizations are quite willing to establish a pilot program to come up with solutions. To do so, they typically turn to their contract cleaning company for help.
For the contractor, initial considerations are going to be time and labor. Because professional cleaning is so time and labor focused, any extra time to perform certain duties can have an impact on the cost of cleaning. And with a very large facility, this impact can be considerable.
So, the first issue to be addressed is to determine if reducing or eliminating the use of plastic liners in trash cans adds time and labor to the daily schedule, proves negligible, or even reduces cleaning times.
To answer this, we have conducted time studies and found that it takes approximately 30 seconds to collect a trash can and place debris in a larger container for disposal, and another 30 seconds to remove and replace the liner in the trash can and return it to the workstation.
However, we also found that taking the same steps but eliminating the plastic liner entirely took about the same amount of time. The only problems we encountered were when “wet” items were placed in trash cans. And, one “wet” food item – oatmeal – can be particularly troublesome.
In the morning, some companies serve their staff oatmeal for breakfast. If the oatmeal is later deposited into trash cans without plastic liners, it hardens throughout the day. By the time cleaning begins in the evening, the oatmeal has hardened to the point that the trash can needs to be scrubbed clean.
One way to address this situation is by replacing each trash can caked with dried oatmeal with an entirely new trash can. The dried oatmeal cans can be cleaned together at the end of the shift and reused the next day. Our studies found this has minimal impact on time and helps promote the goal of reducing, if not eliminating, the use of plastic liners.
If establishing a liner elimination program, do not be surprised if there is some “push back” from staff. Change in a work setting, especially a large work setting, can be difficult and we have found this to be true regardless of an employee’s age.
However, push back can be addressed with education. Remind workers that the goals of the program are: to promote sustainability; to protect the environment; and to reduce the use of natural resources. What can be called a “sustainability culture” has been evolving in North America over the past decade, so these issues are often resonate well with many workers.
As the pilot program proves successful, begin implementing it throughout the facility. In most cases, only kitchen and food service areas of a facility will still need plastic liners, eliminating hundreds, maybe thousands, of liners used at individual workstations.
Cost savings can be considerable. Further, and specifically in a larger facility, a huge amount of storage space now becomes available; this is the space that was once used to hold hundreds and hundreds of boxes of plastic liners.
Daniel Montes is the president and CEO of Brilliant General Maintenance, a more than 30-year-old contract cleaning company based in Northern California, with offices in several states in the U.S. He can be reached via his company website at www.brilliantincorporated.com/index.htm.