Local companies stay invested in the environment | SierraSun.com

Local companies stay invested in the environment

Nick Cruit
Sierra Sun
Jen Schmidt/Sierra SunBistro Elise server Mike Bond holds up the restaurant's eco-friendly utensils, which are not only starch-based and biodegradable, but help conserve water and runoff by eliminating the need for a dishwasher. Bistro Elise is one of several local businesses that is looking to help the environment by going green.
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The initial cost may be unappealing, especially in such a turbulent economy, but local businesses that are looking out for the environment are still saying going green could pay off in the long run.

A little more than a month ago, Crossroads Cleaners in Truckee gave up using their $60,000 dry cleaning machine and made the switch to “wet cleaning,” a process that uses only cleaning chemicals the Environmental Protection Agency approved to be flushed down the drain, instead of the more toxic chemicals used in standard dry cleaning practices.

And as the economic continued to spiral downward, the change came at a cost.

In addition to environmentally-friendly soaps, detergents and conditioners, owner Su Suh invested in new computer-controlled washers and dryers specifically designed for the wet cleaning process and tension equipment designed to dry and unwrinkle garments, a total investment of about $100,000.

“We definitely took a hit going green, but this is the wave of the future, and in the long run, I think it’ll eventually result in savings,” Suh said.

Still, Suh said his prices have not changed since going green. And during the long run, as the cost of the new equipment is recouped, Suh anticipates prices will decrease because the wet cleaning process is more efficient and less costly than standard dry cleaning.

Before the switch, Crossroads cleaned garments with perchloroethylene, or “perc,” ” a chemical that accounts for 80 to 85 percent of all dry cleaning fluid used ” which costs $22 per gallon, seemingly cheap. But when you need 150 gallons of the solution to fill a dry cleaning machine, the price adds up.

And because perc is toxic, Suh had to pay an outside company to dispose of it, an additional cost of $7 per gallon. All said and done, 150 gallons of perc costs approximately $4,350 for purchase and disposal.

But the six different soaps and conditioners used for the wet cleaning process, which are injected into machines by computers based on the specific garment being washed, cost $300 per five gallon container, leaving Suh with a total cleaning supply cost $1,800 and no disposal fee.

That and the EPA and Air Quality Board no longer inspect Crossroads Cleaners ” all dry cleaning services that continue to use perc are monitored by the aforementioned agencies.

While it may take years for Crossroads to recoup the investment in green cleaning, Bistro Elise, located in the Crystal Bay Club, has noticed the advantage going green from the start.

Since opening last May, the bistro has been taking “baby steps” in the green direction, according to Crystal Bay Club food and beverage director Harold Peskin.

Two of the bistro’s main eco-friendly features include recycled, disposable plates and starch-based, degradable utensils, which help conserve water use and runoff by cutting out the need for a dishwasher.

They also recycle used vegetable oil and use to-go boxes made of recycled sugar cane.

“The initial cost was more,” said Peskin. “But the cost over the long run is about the same, then again, we didn’t do these things for cost savings reasons.”

Cher Jenison, owner of High Sierra Green Clean, a Tahoe City-based home and office cleaning service, agreed that it’s not about the money when going green.

“I’ve never done anything other than green in my own business,” Jenison said. “My whole thing is not about making the money, it’s about the environment and the safety of families in their homes.”

While some of the non-toxic cleaning supplies cost more, Jenison said they are typically better quality and clean more efficiently than the cheaper, more environmentally-harming, alternatives.

And where other cleaning services compete with the sheer number of homes and office buildings they can clean, the green clean customer base appears more loyal to a cause, Jenison said.

“The people that use our services are typically concerned with recycling, conserving energy, etc.,” Jenison said. “We haven’t had many problems finding business because the customers have been there from Day 1 and don’t want anything other than green.”