Published On: Thu, Jul 28th, 2011

How Green is Your Local Dry Cleaner?

Maybe you consider yourself merely a once-a-week Curbside Crusader because of the constant

reminder that, “Recycling—It’s the Law!” Or maybe you are a registered member of actively working your way through their articles on “How to Go Green.” Wherever you currently fall on the green spectrum, chances are that deep down, we all really want to do our part towards a cleaner, safer environment.

To that end, many members of the community are looking for a more environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional smelly and dangerous chemical processes for their dry cleaning needs. In response, a growing number of dry cleaners are “Going Green.” The question is, “What exactly does that mean?”

There are currently several different methods of dry cleaning in operation in the community. By far, the large majority of cleaners today still utilize a chemical known as perchloroethylene, or “PERC” as it is known in the industry. PERC was introduced in the United States in the mid-‘30’s and dominated the industry within a decade. Unfortunately, the EPA has reported that PERC is “likely to be a human carcinogen” and toxic to the nervous system. Something to think about the next time you pull your favorite suit or skirt out of the plastic dry cleaner’s bag and smell that all-too-familiar chemical aroma we relate to “clean.”

The dry cleaning industry, like many others, has begun what can only be considered a paradigm shift towards more environmentally-friendly and safer green technologies. The shift has been a relatively fast-moving one. Consider for example a May 20, 2010 article in which green initiatives consisted primarily of recycling hangers, using biodegradable plastic bags, and implementing no-idling policies for delivery trucks. Today—just over a year later—several cleaners have either started the transition to one of the greener cleaning processes, or, in one case, started out that way.  We spoke to three local dry cleaning business owners in an attempt to shed some light on these various “Shades of Green.”

First, Patch spoke to Jonathan Kaufman, owner of Excelsior Cleaners. Excelsior has been in the Larchmont community for 47 years and is very proud to be the first cleaner in the Westchester/NYC area to install the new SystemK4 machine from the German company, Kreussler Chemicals. According to Kreussler’s website, “The basic component of SystemK4 is a halogen-free solvent.”  Patch recently caught-up with Luke Meola, a spokesperson for Kreussler, who explained this significance.

“One of the problems with PERC is that it is heavier than water. So if PERC penetrates the ground, it’ll keep right on going until it hits a water stream, and then it will go to the bottom of the water stream. Whereas a hydrocarbon solvent or our [SolvonK4] solvent is actually lighter than water, so it would end up floating on top of water.”

The new 40-pound K4 machine is one of three in operation at Excelsior, the other two being 50 and 60-pound machines, both traditional PERC units. If one were to do the math, at full capacity it would appear that approximately 25 percent of Excelsior’s business can be handled by the new green technology machine. At an investment of approximately $60,000 for the one machine, it’s not surprising that Excelsior has opted for a single “shade of green” for now.

Next, Patch spoke with Helen Choe, owner of Bernier’s Cleaners & Taylors. Bernier’s has been in Larchmont for 17 years and is another example of a business owner going through the shades of green. Like Excelsior, Bernier’s started off as a completely PERC plant. Choe has made the transition from PERC to a liquid silicone technology from GreenEarth Cleaning out of Kansas City, Missouri. According to GreenEarth’s website, “Liquid silicone is essentially liquified sand. The same natural sand the earth has been creating for over six billion years.” Bernier’s is now a 100 percent green establishment.

Finally, Patch spoke to Gary Madrit, co-owner of Go Green Cleaners in Mamaroneck with his business partner Michael Koppy. Go Green stores use the GreenEarth Cleaning system as well. By way of comparison, Go Green operates a 90-pound GreenEarth system and a 60-pound wet system which is also green. They are probably the newest addition to the local dry cleaning community, however, Madrit operates six other stores throughout Westchester and Connecticut. His is the only one to start off 100 percent green, opening in May 2010.

Whether your neighborhood cleaner has recently opened in today’s world of multiple green technologies, or has had the business insight and environmental consciousness to begin the expensive transition, all could be considered various shades on the same green spectrum. In the end, if patronizing a “green” dry cleaner is something that is important to you, the best advice is to educate yourself as a consumer. Ask the questions. “What percentage of my clothes will be cleaned green?” “Are your plastic bags biodegradable? Compostable?” “What other green initiatives do you employ?”

Whatever shade of green your dry cleaner may currently be at, if any, one thing seems certain: the community supports green cleaning. One customer, upon seeing the Excelsior sign announcing the new “Going Green” initiative, literally begin screaming in excitement and showing the owner the recycling tattoos on her feet. Now that’s green!


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