New EPA Chemical Plan Acknowledges Textile Rental Industry’s Greening Progress

Bruce Beggs |

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement to take steps to improve the safe handling of nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) that stop short of banning its use in industrial laundry detergents signals the agency’s confidence in a voluntary phaseout of the detergent ingredient, the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) says.
Meanwhile, the president of a chemical company that formulates both NPE and non-NPE detergents says he understands the environmental benefits of eliminating NPEs but warns that doing so could ultimately lead to higher laundering costs.NPE PHASEOUT TARGETED IN LIQUID DETERGENTS BY 2013, IN POWDERS BY 2014
The EPA identified a range of actions that it is considering under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but also recognized TRSA’s pledge to voluntarily phase out detergents containing NPE by 2014 (TRSA claims to represent approximately 98% of U.S. industrial laundry facilities).
Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the agency was “pleased that the industry has decided to not wait for regulatory action to be completed.”
“This development reflects EPA’s understanding that our industry inherently seeks to improve the quality of the environment,” says David Potack, chairman, TRSA Government Affairs Committee, and vice president, Unitex Textile Rental Services, Mount Vernon, N.Y. “It is the very nature of our business to judiciously use water, energy and chemistry to provide clean textile products to American industry. Our core competencies include recognizing how laundry chemicals affect our employees and communities.”
Since 1999, TRSA and EPA have collaborated on the Laundry Environmental Stewardship Program (LaundryESP), documenting steady decreases in use of water, energy and chemicals per pound of laundry washed. In 2009, TRSA members embarked on an aggressive effort to virtually eliminate the use of detergents containing NPE by 2015.
The TRSA agreement with EPA now calls for NPE elimination from all liquid detergent formulations by Dec. 31, 2013, and all powders one year later. More time is needed to reformulate powder products used almost exclusively by small laundry businesses that lack the economies of scale to invest in the automated liquid injection systems used in most large industrial laundries, Charles Sewell, TRSA vice president of government affairs, wrote in a letter of commitment.
TRSA’s most recent data shows that about 34% of liquid detergent sales and 41% of powder detergent sales to the industry contain NPE.
“Phasing out NPE is the right thing to do,” says TRSA President Joseph Ricci, “but it will not be easy. Detergent formulations are tailored specifically for use in laundering different textiles and soiling agents. So there is no single solution to replacing NPE. And our industry must provide the cleanliness that our customers require to do their jobs for their customers.”CHEMICAL CO. PRESIDENT: NPE ALTERNATIVES COULD BE MORE COSTLY
Michael Oberlander, president of Noramtech Corp., a Kansas City, Kan.-based chemicals company, says alcohol ethoxylates, also used in formulating laundry detergents, are a safer but more expensive alternative to NPE.
Nonylphenols are “better performers” than alcohol ethoxylates in laundry applications, Oberlander says, and it could take greater amounts of non-NPE detergent to achieve similar cleaning results but at a higher cost, he says. “It’s been my experience that very few people will pay that price, particularly those in the institutional market. … I expect the textile service folks are going to get a real sticker shock.”

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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