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Green cleaning our schools – A healthy school environment supports learning

Written by Heather Lesley

It’s great to see natural cleaning products finally making their way onto our supermarket shelves. But in Australia we are well behind the eight ball. Did you know green cleaning in schools has been mandated by law in several states in the USA?

By the end of 2009 – 10 states, including Connecticut, Illinois and New York, had already enacted the Green Clean Schools Acts requiring, or encouraging, the use of environmentally sensitive cleaning and maintenance products in schools. The goal of the bill is to make schools and other public space less toxic and healthier for kids, teachers and cleaning staff.

The California Air Resources Board has found significant environmental health concerns in many of California’s classrooms that stem from the very products used to keep schools clean. As a result, school children and staff are unnecessarily exposed to chemicals commonly found in traditional cleaning products that have been linked to asthma and cancer.

According to the Healthy Schools Campaign, a non-profit that advocates for healthy school environments, research shows a clear link between poor indoor air quality, sick students and teachers, and poor academic and occupational performance.

In some Australian pre-schools and primary schools, children eat at the same tables they use to do their drawings and school work. Commercial cleaning contractors may be required to use heavy-duty, toxic cleaning chemicals to remove texta, crayon and marker ink from tables – the very same surface our children then eat off!

Staff and parents can be great advocates for change. If you feel passionately about this topic, you could look into forming a green clean committee – with your school’s endorsement – to research and encourage the introduction of a green cleaning program.

So what exactly is green cleaning? It’s basically about cleaning to protect human health without harming the environment. The marketplace is now full of green cleaning products that work well and are cost-comparable to traditional products.

How do you go about selecting green cleaning chemicals for your school or workplace? Look out for cleaning products that have been independently certified by Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA). Check out the fine print on the label, or better still contact the manufacturer to request a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). This document will reveal any nasty chemicals contained in the liquid.

The ideal choice would be Australian-made cleaning products that are readily biodegradable, as well as septic and sewerage system safe. They should contain no petrochemicals, phosphates, chlorine, SLS or SLES, and have no harsh fumes or chemical residues.

If your school is already locked into a commercial agreement with their cleaning contractor ask if they could investigate switching to low allergenic, non-toxic and environmentally preferred products. Or next time your school is revisiting their cleaning contract, ask that a preference for green cleaning products is incorporated as part of the tender.

If your existing cleaner is not sure where to start – point them to the Green Clean Schools website. It’s completely free of charge to log-in and access The Quick and Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools. A practical and step-by-step guide for commercial cleaners endorsed by Steve Askin – International green cleaning authority and author of the book Green Cleaning for Dummies.

Another great resource is the Cleaning for Asthma Safe Schools (CLASS). On this website you’ll find The Green Cleaning Toolkit and heaps of practical information for introducing a green cleaning program at your school.

Closer to home, the SASI Clean™ program was founded by Melbourne-based Bridget Gardner, Director of Fresh Green Clean. The Safe and Sustainable Indoor (SASI) Cleaning Project is a green cleaning pilot trial conducted with four local Childcare Centres. Fresh Green Clean is available to conduct green clean training and consulting projects across Australia.

Although starting a green cleaning program can feel overwhelming, green cleaning is not an “all or nothing” proposition. Most schools that successfully implement green cleaning programs begin by addressing the most significant or easily accessible issues first. As they experience success, they add new elements to their plan or make adjustments to improve the results of current efforts.

Maybe one day we might even see green cleaning mandated in Australia?!

Compiled by Heather Lesley, Founder of Eco Office Supplies www.ecoofficesupplies.com.au

Further Information

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