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Carwashing gets the 'green' light

October 11, 2010
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Most newly established or revamped wash sites claim to be environmentally-friendly, but some may wonder just what it takes for a carwash operator to make that claim.

With an increase in demand for natural resources, such as water and fossil fuels, government institutions and municipalities have made some changes as to the way that natural resources can be used by businesses. It is tougher for many business owners to comply with the regulations.

There are some ways that a carwash operator can become a "green" business, but it will take some modifications by the owner and some advanced product releases from manufacturers in order to attain that goal. Some of these methods are:

Don't use fresh water, recycle your water

One way that wash operators can save on bills and help the environment is to reduce the amount of fresh water used by installing recycling equipment. This equipment can:

  • Lower discharge amounts;
  • Provide a higher quality of water; and
  • Filter and treat discharge water to reduce the chemical impact on the wastewater treatment plant, appeasing regulators or inspectors.

Water reclaim also makes good financial and economic sense by cutting utility costs.

New, and environmentally safe, chemicals

It is a widely shared opinion that what the industry really needs is a product that cleans well and doesn't harm the environment.

Tom Repp, Great Lakes Bio Systems and CWP Products, Kenosha, WI, is a supporter of environmentally-safe products for the carwash, industrial cleaning and wastewater treatment industries that knows there is a need in car-care for safer chemicals.

Repp calls for more cleaning chemicals that are engineered to clean but also bio-remediate waste in pits to reduce harmful traces and buildup throughout the entire process.

Introduce green equipment

Carwash operations have gained in leaps and bounds compared to the systems of the past, but in order to evolve the current systems used, wash owners and equipment makers need to:

  • Recycle as much water as possible to further cut fresh water usage;
  • Plan ahead with a larger system for the growth of each business and the possibility of an increase to a set customer base; as well as
  • Publicize all efforts to save water and set the top-of-the-line carwash apart from the do-it-yourself driveway carwash.
Be green, get the customer out of the driveway

Carwash operators can advertise the benefits of green washing and can use their new "green" products as a tool to get the approximate 50 percent of Americans who still wash at home to come to their location.

Green washing can also help carwashers differentiate themselves from charity washing performed outside fixed sites.

This can assist operators in convincing communities that the wash's property is environmentally-friendly.

It can also alleviate the commonly held notion that leads many residents and community leaders to point the finger at carwashes when droughts occur.

Association assistance with green

In the past, efforts from associations such as the International Carwash Association (ICA) and the Southwest Car Wash Association (SCWA) have introduced regulatory certification programs to fight drought restrictions, educate communities and prove that the carwash industry conserves water.

When San Antonio was facing the second year of a very serious drought in the late 1990s that forced modifications to city code and called for the closure of professional carwashes in the newly formed drought plan, the SCWA responded by asking to create a new certification program.

SCWA officials decided to approach the city's water and wastewater utility, with the help of the ICA, about a Carwash Conservation Certification Program that would allow an annual inspection of carwashes and official recognition of water-saving establishments.

Those who passed the program were protected from being shut down during high periods of drought for the city provided the wash could show that it was doing business in a water-conscience manor.

This also created a great support system for carwash owners who cared about saving water and staying in business.

An environmentally safe seal for car-care?

Earlier this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the nonprofit Green Blue Institute (GreenBlue) Charlottesville, VA, partnered to launch a project designed to encourage the use of industrial and institutional cleaning products that are more preferable for the environment.

The program focused its efforts on large scale cleaning, but GreenBlue's Director of Applied Science, Dr. Lauren Heine, said the group has yet to work exclusively with chemical manufactures from the car-care industry.

In fact, there is yet to be an environmentally-safe certification or seal established for carwash chemicals.

The EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) was created in order to support chemical formulators in identifying positive ingredients that will help them to formulate green products, according to Heine.

Which brings to light the question, what benefits would a car-care chemical producer have by partaking in the free DfE process?

Heine said she sees the program providing a valuable resource to formulators in helping to promote those raw materials produced by suppliers with price, performance, environmental and human health benefits for the company involved.

DfE partnerships inform businesses in the design or redesign of products and processes that are cleaner, more cost-effective and safer for workers and the public.

This might also provide a strong angle for a car-care vendor or a carwash chain when promoting their environmentally-friendly activities.

If you're serious about 'green' washing

According to Repp, if you want to become an operator who's environmentally sensitive, you're going to have to design your carwash reclaim system at least one and a half times what would normally be installed.

A basic system simply will not handle the level of organic contaminants that are flushed through them from cleaning an increasing amount of cars.

In a response to his reaction on green cleaning in car-care, Repp said the idea's a bit of a change in the dynamic on how people can wash and how you can clean, but can be beneficial to everyone in the long run.

By using green technology, you can operate your system without the risk of abrasive chemicals that might:

  • Damage vehicle surfaces if not mixed correctly;
  • Impact the well-being of an employee; or
  • Fail to bio-digest, accumulate and attach to oils in the system and the bay pits making an eventual pit cleaning harder than may be necessary.