To be sure, plenty of Madison Avenue types have overhyped and underwhelmed us with “green” claims about everything from food to fashion. But environmentalists, scientists, regulators, politicians, schools, health professionals and consumers all agree. We have no alternative but to find safe alternatives to the environmentally unsafe practices endangering our planet. So we all try to do our part by eating, shopping and living “green”. But how much do we really know about the green choices we are making?
When it comes to food, it’s easy to be green. We look for FDA regulated “organic” labels to assure us that no harmful chemicals have been used in its manufacture. Lately, more and more dry cleaners have been putting signs up in their windows advertising “organic” dry cleaning. Must be good, right?
Wrong. The term “organic” means something very different when it describes the chemicals used in dry cleaning. To a chemist, organic only means that a chemical contains a chain of carbon. Gasoline is organic, and so are most of the major dry cleaning solvents used by the industry for the last 150 years. Dry cleaners marketing their “organic” difference are counting on customers not understanding this difference. Simply put, you’re being green washed.
How can you be sure your dry cleaner is using a truly green cleaning method? Ask what process they use. There are five main types of cleaning processes in use today:
It can be confusing. Even the industry trade association makes it difficult to discern who is and isn’t green. Any dry cleaner, even a perc cleaner, can hang a sign certifying that they are a “Certified Environmental Dry Cleaner” as long as they pass a test certifying that they have the knowledge and ability to maintain their facility in an environmentally responsible way. Bottom line? There is no regulation of the term “organic” or “environmentally friendly” when applied to dry cleaning. Don’t rely on the signs in the window. Ask your dry cleaner to tell you exactly what process is being used.
Beware of dry cleaners making claims about dry cleaning your clothes using “organic” or “natural” methods. Marketing claims for dry cleaning are not regulated like food claims. The National Cleaners Association, a dry cleaning industry trade group, says some operators are using these terms in blatantly misleading ways.
What is organic dry cleaning?
When a food product has an FDA-regulated “organic” label, consumers can trust that no harmful chemicals were used in its manufacture. But “organic” means something very different when it describes the chemicals used in dry cleaning.
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Dry-cleaning Solvent Classified Correctly
(AP) The Environmental Protection Agency was correct to classify a dry-cleaning solvent as “likely to be a human carcinogen,” according to a review by the independent National Research Council. The solvent — tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PERC — contaminates the air, groundwater, surface water and soil, says the report, released Tuesday. It can damage the nervous and reproductive systems, liver and kidneys. People are mostly exposed to PERC by breathing it in the air but also can be exposed through the skin. The EPA aims to estimate the chemical’s health effects and to establish standards for clean air and water. — Liz Szabo
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