by Andrew Jacka. First Published 10-Sep-2020 by Bangkok Post

Sanitization and sterilization don’t have to mean environmental toxicity

A global pandemic has forced us to change the way we live and work. Cleanliness, hygiene, hand-washing, sanitization, disinfectant, anti-virus, hand-gels and face masks are key points of discussion around the world.

However, while we have employed sanitization and sterilization practices in our efforts to minimize the impact of the global pandemic, we seem to have taken a step backward in terms of mitigating some of the environmental abuse we have been inflicting on our planet. Where single use plastics were taboo in many forms, through force of necessity we have suddenly had a massive growth in the quantities of chemicals and plastic laden Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) which is now being discarded on a daily basis and the use of single use PPE is expected to grow by CAGR 7.8% over the next five years. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million medical goggles are needed EACH MONTH for COVID-19 response in addition to all the other PPE that is required to keep our healthcare and front-line workers safe. The WHO also suggests that manufacturing rates need to increase by 40% over current levels to meet the demand. This is great news for the manufacturers, but not so good for the planet, as all that PPE will be added to the ever-growing piles of garbage already waiting disposal. Yet, while this seems inevitable some of the environmental damages can be balanced out by making changes where safety is not compromised, such as the use of washable and reusable cloth masks by the broader population instead of using single-use PPE and using environmentally sustainable sanitization products and sterilization practices where possible.

Environmental toxicity is not always about the product

While many products including hand sanitizers may be environmentally friendly (such as those that contain 70% ethyl alcohol), all too frequently the packaging that these products are sold in, are not – although you can potentially still maintain a clean environmental conscience through the disposal of the packaging (assuming it actually recyclable) by having it processed via companies such as the Bangkok startup Trash Lucky. As a small incentive the more trash to sort and recycle through Trash Lucky, the more chances you have to win in their monthly prize draw. Another option to reduce your packaging waste is to buy your cleaning products from refill stations. Click here to find the store nearest to you in Thailand where you can buy products without excess packaging.

Sanitizers can have adverse health implications

When it comes to sanitization, one of the go-to products is household bleach. However, while often touted as a kill-all product it does come with warning labels for a reason. While highly effective as a sanitizing agent, it is highly reactive substance which can cause adverse health effects during both its usage and its manufacture, including skin irritation, damage to the immune system and cancer and long-term environmental damage.

Another environmentally friendly sanitization practice involves the use of Ozone gas (03). However, while it is effective as a disinfectant it too comes with a string of precautionary instructions including the risk of cell mutations and cancer. So while the product itself is eco-friendly it is still best left to the professionals authorised and trained in its use.

UVC lamps were being promoted as an effective sanitizer, even given the risks of radiation exposure, but in early August the US FDA announced that they had their concerns about the use of such devices. While they can inactivate viruses, they cannot inactivate anything that it is not directly exposed to the UVC – so if the virus is covered in dust or on the underside of a surface (plate, bowl, bottle, etc.) it will happily live on and continue to spread.

Steam is also an environmentally effective sterilization mode, but with temperatures in excess of 70°C required, it is not necessarily safe nor practical to use in the home environment.

Electro-Chemical Activation Technology

Probably the simplest and easiest environmentally sustainable disinfection for home use is ECA water. ECA Water uses Electro-Chemical Activation (ECA) technology combing table salt, tap water and electricity for an environmentally sustainable cleanser and disinfectant. It has been used for years by the agricultural and medical industries, but it is also used by those in hospitality and is being explored by the spa and wellness industry to see if it has practical application.

Easy to use @home kits have recently been made available in the market (though not yet in Thailand it seems) where in just three minutes you can make your own environmentally sustainable disinfectant on your kitchen table. It claims to be 99% effective in killing bacteria and viruses, however, there is still more research required to determine its efficacy on COVID-19 although it must be noted that Unison Engineering in Ireland has reported that since February, the authorities in Wuhan, China, have been using ECA water to disinfect the streets and buildings in the city although the concentration used is unclear.

In an alternative mode of application, you can walk through a light mist of ECA water to kill any possible surface bacteria.

Another environmentally considerate option is the use of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to disinfect surfaces. This product does not produce volatile organic compounds, is not toxic or carcinogenic and decomposes in under 30 minutes.

Sanitizers have varying rates of effectiveness

There are even more products in the marketplace that can be used for sanitization and sterilization without negatively impacting the environment but all of these, as with those mentioned above, must be used in accordance with good business practice guidelines, and manufacturer how-to-use instructions and government regulations for maximum efficacy, as while they may be effective sanitizers they can have varying benefits according to the concentration used.

  • citric acid, kills bacteria, mould, and mildew, it is a general cleaning and disinfecting agent effective at removing soap scum, hard water stains, calcium deposits, lime, and rust. Lemon juice contains 5%– 8% citric acid
  • L-lactic acid is an enantiomer within lactic acid. It is an antimicrobial, antibacterial and biochemical pesticide which comes from nature and can safely return to nature.
  • caprylic acid (octanoic acid) is an antimicrobial pesticide used as a food contact surface sanitizer in commercial food processing and handling. The acid is naturally occurring in coconut and palm oil and in cow milk.
  • thymol, is derived from thyme and other culinary herbs. It is a disinfectant known for its antimicrobial properties.

CleanRight tick of approval

The International Association for Soaps, Detergents and Maintenance Products (A.I.S.E.) is the representative body for the industry sector in Europe. Today the organization represents over 900 companies that supply both professional and home cleaning products and services. Their Charter for 2019 (released July 2020) indicated that they had put 1,625,000,000 units of cleaning products on market shelves which carry the CleanRight tick of approval, just one of the ‘eco’ certification standards used in label around the world. Others include: EcoMark (Japan); Green Choice (Philippines); Environmental Choice (New Zealand); Hong Kong Green Label; and Green Seal (USA)

The A.I.S.E. Charter for Sustainable Cleaning was launched in 2005 and contributes to 14 of the 17 United Nations designated Sustainable Development Goals. The charter is regularly updated to ensure it remains relevant.

So whatever your cleaning choice is and whether or not you need a broad spectrum sanitizing agent, or just a general cleaning agent there are products available that will kill bacteria and viruses without killing the planet.

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