Ben Jervey debunked a big myth I had believed. I thought that organic dry cleaners are eco-friendly. Wrong. That's just one of many environmental choices he uncovers in his fantastic book, the Big Green Apple: Your Guide to Eco-Friendly Living in New York City. Turns out organic dry cleaners use a toxic chemical you want to stay away from, and the greenest option involves CO2. Go figure that organic = bad and CO2 = good! I make a weekly drop-off to our dry cleaners, so I was thrilled to find out what's green and what's not when it comes to dry cleaning. Here's my interview with Ben:
When you see a sign that says organic dry cleaning — what does that mean?
I think organic dry cleaning is often one of the great consumer greenwashing scams. It doesn’t mean everyone’s business is a scam. But in many cases it is. A dry cleaner can accurately label themselves as an organic dry cleaner when they use this chemical, one of the most dangerous carcinogenic chemicals, called perc. In chemical terms, perc is a volatile organic compound. A lot of people are getting their clothes dry cleaned thinking it’s a chemical-free process, bringing their clothes home in those plastic bags and putting their clothes in the closet.
What are greener options for dry cleaning your clothes?
Dry cleaning is a bad option. Wet cleaning is generally better. The best is a process called CO2 cleaning. It's carbon dioxide using liquid CO2 to clean clothes and it doesn’t involve chemicals. It’s not emitting CO2 into the air, either. Here in New York there’s one company doing it well: Green Apple Cleaners.
If the cleaning process is not specified, is it likely that the dry cleaner is using perc?
It’s pretty safe to assume then that the dry cleaner is perc-based. The EPA is looking into perc. We might not be terribly far from the time when perc is phased out of dry cleaning.
And here's more on dry cleaning from Ben's book:
While typical dry-cleaning practices are dangers for the environment as well as for workers and customers, there are eco-friendly alternatives. Dry cleaning itself requires detergents and a solvent— usually Perc, a known carcinogen— that prevent water from penetrating the threads but also release fumes...One alternative to this is "wet" cleaning. Wet cleaning is a relatively new process that is water- rather than chemical-based...Another cutting-edge alternative cleaning method uses liquid carbon dioxide, a mild detergent, and a highly pressurized tank. After the cleaning, the carbon dioxide is collected and reused.
[thanks, Ben, for explaining this confusing topic!]