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Getting the Dirty Out of Dry Cleaning
Adrian Muller, 27 Aug 07

Perchloroethylene, or perc, is the most common solvent used for dry cleaning. It's also a serious threat to the environment and our health. Around 70 percent of all perc used in the United States ends up in the environment. Because it is a liquid that does not bind well to soil, perc that makes its way into the ground can move through ground and enter groundwater. Considered a hazardous air contaminant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, perc is also classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, affecting both those who work in the dry cleaning industry as well as consumers. Effects from breathing perc range from dizziness, fatigue, headaches and sweating to incoordination and unconsciousness.

Some places are moving to ban perc; in California no dry cleaner in the state will be allowed to operate with the solvent after 2023.

Germany-based company Fred Butler has developed a patented process that replaces solvents like perc with carbon dioxide. It works by placing clothes or other garments in a cleansing machine that removes the air and allows carbon dioxide to fill the vacuum. The high pressure generated in combination with bio-degradable cleansers cleans the fabrics. And this dry cleaning method does not contribute to global warming: the process uses existing CO2 emissions from industrial processes that otherwise would have been released into the atmosphere. 98 percent of this gas is filtered and reused instead.

Fred Butler is certified by the prestigious Nordic Swan ecolabel, an independent certification program introduced in 1989 by the Nordic Council of Ministers to unify the emerging ecolabeling programs that were appearing throughout the Nordic countries. The label is intended to provide consumers with guidance in choosing products least hazardous to the environment, to stimulate manufacturers to develop products and processes that are better for the environment, and to use market forces as a complement to environmental legislation.

Fred Butler is owned by the Linde Group, Europe’s second largest supplier of industrial and medical gases. The company is currently available in Holland, Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

The need to avoid using solvents, separation agents and other chemicals is a necessary step to stop damaging human health as well as the environment. So the emergence of companies that are coming up with environmentally friendly substitutes for these chemicals, like Fred Butler and others, is crucial to bringing clean, green alternatives to our daily routines -- such as dropping clothes off at the dry cleaner.

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Are there any companies in the US that employ this technology / are planning to employ this technology? Zoots claims to be environmentally friendly... but this technology would go above and beyond.

Posted by: casey on 30 Aug 07



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