Flush with eco-friendly potential

Flowers in front of Derham

A lesson in sustainable product and resource efficiency, brought to you by your nearby St. Kate’s restroom

The principles and practices that define sustainability have been part of St. Kate’s for so many years, it’s easy to forget or miss the many ways we live this mission on campus. In the coming weeks we will share stories and examples of how sustainability is part of teaching, learning, and student life.

When most people think about sustainable bathrooms, the first thoughts that come to mind typically revolve around sleek, sophisticated, smart fixtures that do all the eco-thinking for the user. The Facilities team at St. Kate’s knew there were ways to keep the existing fixtures that performed well from an energy consumption perspective – saving construction waste – and update lesser-considered items to create the same kind of annual savings that could pay for a restroom-full of fancy toilets.

Streamlined cleaning supplies

The old cleaning supplies were sourced through a variety of vendors, with no standardization. This meant no volume discounts, and more training time for staff. Using the MPCA guidelines for green cleaning, the Facilities team set out to make cleaning a greener effort.

“Some of the troubled spots that we had were the pH levels in our bowl acid cleaner and other heavy duty degreasers,” said Reed Richards, manager of Grounds/Custodial at St. Kate’s. “We switched to a product called Lunar for our bowl acid cleaner, which is a product that was designed for the Mayo clinic specifically for the same issue.”

Facilities also reduced its heavy duty degreaser usage, and uses equipment designed to assist in heavy duty cleaning applications. One more switch was replacing aerosol cleaners used to clean stainless steel with a better-performing organic product made from beeswax.

In the end, Facilities reduced its inventory of bathroom cleaning supplies from 36 products to 13. With the standardization of these products across campus, employees need less training time and can complete the cleaning in less time. Many cleaners specify a “dwell time” to effectively kill germs, bacteria, mold or other undesirable substances. The old products had a standard dwell time of up to 10 minutes, but the new products have dwell times of 3-5 minutes.

Standardizing the cleaning products also led to volume discounts – where Facilities used to pay $4.39 per bottle for the old bathroom cleaner, the new cleaner in the same volume costs $0.07 per bottle.

Biobased toilet paper

Toilet paper has ranked as one of the top complaints logged with Facilities. The single ply, bleached, non-compostable rolls were more than a nuisance — they were an opportunity to make every flush a little greener.

By replacing the old toilet paper with new dispensers that support “no core” paper rolls, there is near 100% usage with no sub roll waste. This also reduced packaging by 95%. The no core toilet paper contains at least 20% Post-Consumer Recycled Fiber, which meets or exceeds EPA Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines.

If that’s not reassuring the next time you reach for a square of toilet paper, consider this: our paper is a USDA certified Biobased product, meaning it’s derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials.

Concentrated soap

Even though there are plenty of bathrooms to keep clean on campus, the number one cleaning product purchased is still the hand soap.

Current industry hand soap standards call for a foaming hand soap. The old liquid soap was ordered in prepackaged quantities, and contained mostly water. Each time the soap dispenser was emptied, staff would discard the empty (non-recyclable) container and replace it with a new, pre-filled container. The new soap dispensing system uses a concentrate that can be refilled on campus using the same filtered water system that is monitored for cleanliness.

Instead of ordering cases of soap, Facilities orders a case of concentrate that produces 40 soap refills. This is a touchless process for our custodial staff, and generates less waste as soap containers are not being discarded as frequently. Using concentrated soap has reduced the amount of plastic to be recycled by 1/20th of the previous volume of soap containers. The new soap dispensers were included with the first order of new soap, and installed at no cost by the supplier.

Paper towels, simplified

Before reviewing suppliers, the University had three different types and brands of paper towels on campus. Not only did that mean more stock on hand and reduced volume discounts, it also meant more time training staff on each dispenser model. None of the paper towels were compostable, either.

Facilities made the switch to new towel dispensers that hold a compostable non-bleached paper towel that’s not only better for the environment, but also cost the University less money – in time, training, and waste. The new dispensers, installed at cost by the supplier, have a battery life that’s four times longer than the old dispensers. They also feature a quieter dispensing mechanism, making them less disruptive in kitchenettes and near office areas.

With all of these changes, St. Kate’s Facilities team not only minimizes product waste, it improves cleaning processes, making more time in the daily custodial schedule to help our campus stay cleaner and greener.

Next week’s story

We're going to shed a little light on how LED upgrades are not just helping the planet, but also maintenance schedules and budgets.

Sustainability at St. Kate's