Restrooms: A Source for Sustainability

By Sue Minichiello

sustainable_restroom_MechanicalHubWith a longstanding commitment to green practices, AffinEco continually evaluates aspects of its cleaning and maintenance services to identify environmentally-friendly opportunities for its customers. One area that can yield a high return is restroom sustainability.

According to a recent article in CleanLink, “Restrooms are a focal point for facility executives and their occupants and thus deserve special attention from building service contractors to keep them clean and functioning efficiently. They’re hot spots for janitorial activity, necessitating more cleaning and restocking than any other room or area for most customers.”

AffinEco knows this well and further understands what a drain restroom supplies can be on resources and budgets.

“We often helps customers identify ways to make restrooms more sustainable through the use of certain paper and soap products and systems,” said AffinEco Managing Partner Michael Diamond. “We have a wealth of experience, but we also count on our distributor representatives to help us orchestrate the plan. They are always willing to meet directly with our building clients if requested.”

Gary Olson, Sales Executive at Strauss Paper Company — a leading wholesale distributor of janitorial supplies, janitorial equipment, restroom supplies and sustainable green products — is one such representative.

Olson said that for the past several years, building owners and managers have been moving swiftly toward more green and sustainable practices for two reasons: 1. They are establishing corporate social responsibility initiatives in which environmentalism is a significant factor, and 2. They want to achieve LEED points for their properties. Pursuant to both reasons, managers are looking for Green Seal or ECOLOGO certified products, which verify environmental preferability.

“So often these days, the first question I’m asked is ‘Are your products green?’” Olson said. “More and more, building managers want to do the right thing for the environment. And one of the biggest ways they can have an impact is in their restrooms.”

Olson confirmed that paper and soap products and systems are fundamental factors affecting restroom sustainability. There are numerous different options available today, each with its own degree of sustainability and related cost impact. Olson admits that, generally speaking, you will pay more for green paper or soap products, but in many cases that expenditure can be minimal and is offset by other related savings.

The sustainability of restroom paper and soap is chiefly determined by:
• the type of materials from which the products are made or sourced
• the size of the product packaging
• the amount of waste the delivery system can reduce

The types of materials from which restroom paper products are made or sourced can be recycled or sustainable. Paper and soap manufacturers have changed related packaging, making containers and cases smaller so that less actual packaging is required and fewer vehicles are needed to deliver the same amount of product. Delivery system waste reduction occurs in terms of the length and number of paper towels or the amount of soap dispensed at a time from hands-free or automatic dispensers, and in terms of the makeup of the product itself.

Paper towels and toilet paper come in different forms, such as roll towels and coreless rolls, respectively, in different colors (brown, white, off-white) and in different thicknesses. Coreless toilet paper rolls are the most recent restroom tissue development. As the name suggests, they eliminate the traditional cardboard core altogether. Not only is there no waste of the core itself, but also they offer about double the number of sheets and the shipping packaging is smaller. They also reduce waste by enabling the entire roll to be dispensed.

According to Olson, “With traditional toilet paper, when nighttime cleaning crews see a roll is low, they don’t want to risk it running out during the following workday. So they typically put a new roll in the dispenser and place the low one on top. What happens more often than not is that roll falls on the floor, and no one wants to use toilet paper that’s been on the bathroom floor, so it just ends up getting thrown out.”

Restroom paper products can be made from recycled materials or derived from a more sustainable source than trees, such as bamboo and wheat. Paper products made from bamboo and wheat are a newer development and are far more sustainable than that made from trees mainly because their growth times are extremely shorter. They are slightly more costly now, but are expected to come down in price as demand grows.

Both restroom paper towels and hand soap can be delivered by hands-free or automatic systems, which are designed to reduce waste by limiting the amount of paper or soap dispensed.

For paper towels, available systems feature manual no-touch delivery or wave sensor delivery. Manual no-touch dispensers leave about four inches of paper towel hanging and perforate at about 11 inches. The user simply grabs and pulls the hanging paper, which automatically cuts off at the perforation. Just like it sounds, a wave sensor dispenser enables the user to wave a hand in front of a sensor to deliver a pre-determined length of paper towel. Building managers can choose the length of towel dispensed.

For hand soap, hands-free systems tend to run on a battery and dispense a small amount of concentrated liquid soap sufficient to wash one’s hands. A single cartridge can deliver 1,500 to 2,000 hand washes. Typically, the cartridges come two to a case, delivering 3,000 to 4,000 hand washes. Conversely, traditional liquid soap comes in gallon containers with each gallon yielding about 700 hand washes. A case typically holds four gallons — enough for 2,800 hand washes. That’s fewer total hand washes in significantly larger packaging.

Olson said there is a whole other level to restroom sustainability involving equipment such as automatic and water-conserving faucets and toilets, even waterless toilets. But choosing greener paper and soap solutions is a simple and immediately rewarding start.

“There truly are so many options available today for sustainable restroom supplies and equipment. It can be a bit overwhelming. Our job is to learn about the individual building landscape and culture, and present two or three options that we deem the best approaches to achieve the desired level of sustainability at a cost that makes sense for the operation.”

(image courtesy of