Occidental College Receives $200,000 Grant to Promote Environmentally Friendly Dry Cleaning Alternative
Occidental College’s Pollution Prevention Education and Research Center (PPERC) has acquired a $200,000 grant to educate regional dry cleaners on the merits of water-based wet-cleaning technology as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional dry cleaning.
The grant will help establish eight wet clean demonstration sites in Los Angeles, while also providing workshops and public outreach campaigns to increase demand for professional wet cleaning.
The award from the California Wellness Foundation is payable over two years and will use social marketing, asset mapping and community-based policy development strategies to stimulate change toward the use of pollution prevention technology in the garment care industry.
“In the United States, dry cleaners have become an integral part of almost every neighborhood – in greater Los Angeles alone, there are over 3,000 dry cleaning facilities,” says PPERC Director Peter Sinsheimer. “Unfortunately, over 95 percent of these facilities use the toxic chemical perchloroethylene as the primary cleaning solvent. Exposure to PCE from dry cleaning represents a significant risk to workers, customers and the surrounding community.”
PCE has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the International Association for Research on Cancer and a hazardous air pollutant by the federal government and the state of California. As the single largest consumer of PCE in the country, dry cleaners are major contributors to the estimated 4.2 tons of PCE emissions produced daily in Southern California.
The grant will allow PPERC to develop a marketing plan to increase demand for professional wet cleaning. Outreach campaigns will be done at two locations already using wet cleaning: Cypress Plaza Cleaners in Orange County, and Nature’s Best Cleaners in the San Bernardino County city of Rancho Cucamonga. Officials hope to increase sales volume at each cleaner by 10 percent in the first six months after the marketing campaign, and 1 percent for each remaining month of the grant’s duration. Officials want to nurture a similar demand for wet cleaning at eight demonstration sites they plan to start in Los Angeles.
Additionally, the grant will allow PPERC to sponsor eight workshops at wet clean facilities, and develop informational materials and a technical information packet as part of a direct mail outreach to cleaners on how they can best market wet cleaning. Project organizers also hope to promote statewide legislation to encourage the use of wet cleaning, which could be used as a model for the spread of other environmentally friendly products.
Last year, the California Wellness Foundation – in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Liberty Hill Foundation – awarded $80,000 to PPERC to be used as grants to help eight conventional dry cleaning businesses switch to the wet-cleaning process. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) allotted an additional $242,798 to the grant pool. The businesses were offered matching funds up to $12,500 to help make the transition.
Professional wet cleaning was introduced to the United States from England in 1990 and involves the use of computer-controlled washing and drying machines that use biodegradable soaps and sizing agents to clean wool, silk, rayon and other delicate fibers often labeled “dry clean only.”
The process’ commercial viability has been demonstrated by the success of Cleaner By Nature in Santa Monica and Cypress Plaza Cleaners, the first two cleaners in Southern California to fully utilize wet cleaning. Since switching to wet cleaning in April 1998, Cypress Plaza Cleaners has successfully cleaned 99.8 percent of the garments it would otherwise have dry-cleaned.
AQMD co-sponsored a 1997 PPERC study of almost 35,000 delicate garments wet cleaned at Cleaner By Nature. The study showed that 99.9 percent of the articles, most marked “dry clean only,” were successfully cleaned with the non-toxic process. Customers rated wet cleaning as equal to or better than dry cleaning, particularly in regards to stain removal and lack of damage to fabric and buttons.
Even though stringent AQMD regulations govern the use of PCE, these requirements are time-consuming to enforce in an industry dispersed among thousands of small shops, many owned by recent immigrants. More than half of the region’s dry cleaners are owned and operated by Korean immigrants.
Industry response to professional wet cleaning has been limited by a lack of familiarity with the process, the perceived cost of making the switch, and care labeling laws and manufacturing processes that favor dry cleaning.
The Woodland Hills-based California Wellness Foundation was founded upon a vision to promote the health of the people of California by making grants for prevention. The foundation has awarded 2,147 grants totaling more than $313.1 million. It is one of the state's largest private foundations, awarding an average of $40 million each year.