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A sea-change moment is needed in our approach to school cleaning

Emma Saunders, General Manager at Genesis Biosciences –  a global biosciences company that focuses on researching and utilising beneficial bacteria and micro-organisms to replace harsh chemical cleaners and make a positive environmental impact – explores the many benefits of using bacterial solutions to clean school facilities.

“Changeability is one of the most important characteristics of our time, and with the right facilitator, any industry is capable of evolving.

When Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet television programme drew the attention of the public-at-large to the epidemic of plastic pollution damaging ecosystems within the world’s oceans, it facilitated an awakening of changing attitudes that has been an important part of the trend towards responsible plastic use.

The legacy of this impact is particularly pronounced within the retail industry, where legislation has seen plastic bags now come at a nominal fee across the UK and serious questions have been raised over the use of excessive plastic packaging.

One industry that still awaits its ‘Blue Planet moment’ is the facility management sector, where products that can cause both environmental and health issues continue to be used in excess.

Nowhere is this more pertinent than in the cleaning and management of buildings dedicated to the education of minors, where the developing respiratory systems of children are at risk to the damage that harsh chemicals could potentially cause.

Sometimes, it is inevitable that schools need chemicals to perform cleaning tasks. However, not all cleaning jobs call for chemical solutions and there can be wider environmental and health implications for both children and workers when institutes refuse to consider alternative cleaning solutions where applicable.

With a large study commissioned by Asthma UK identifying a link between professions such as facility cleaners – where the use of products with high concentrations of chemicals is common – and the development of asthma in adults, the body of evidence linking traditional cleaning products to both environmental and health hazards continues to grow.

Analysing 11,000 people born in 1958 and living in the UK, the research commissioned by Asthma UK concluded that approximately one in six cases of adult onset asthma could be due to occupational exposures, providing a clear case for extra care to be taken by employers of those working in jobs with high-risk exposure to hazard substances – especially those likely to involve exposure to cleaning agents.

Educational institutes have a duty of care to their pupils and it is of paramount importance that they put the well-being of students at the heart of all their activities – including how institutes are cleaned.

In February 2017, The World Health Organisation issued a stark warning that superbugs (drug-resistant bacteria) pose an imminent threat to human health across the world.

Traditional chemical-based cleaning products have played a role in this. Their indiscriminate and continued use, resulting in biocidal residues at sub-lethal levels remaining on the surface after it has been wiped clean, has been proven to result in the development of resistant bacteria with reduced antimicrobial and anti-biotic susceptibility.

Contrarily, utilising probiotic cleaning solutions can help reduce bacterial resistance, with there being a growing amount of research that supports their use in tackling this concerning phenomenon.

The success of using beneficial bacteria as a cleaning agent derives from them either out-competing the harmful bacteria for the same resources or producing bio-surfactants that have a potent anti-microbial effect.

Independent analysis undertaken at Italian hospitals by Università di Ferrara exhibited that the medium to long term effects of biological treatment actually provides better control of harmful bacteria compared to disinfectant chemicals on the four indicator micro-organisms Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas species and Candida albicans.

In a wider environmental context, there can also be broader global environmental benefits to becoming an adopter of biological cleaning agents – which could serve a significant purpose in the role of reducing water source contamination around the world.

For obvious reasons, schools are prohibited from directly discharging grease into the sewer system, so using products such as a multi-strain liquid bacterial solution can make a significant impact on how educational facility cleaning is approached.

Products such as the Evogen Professional GDL are specifically formulated to degrade fats, oils and greases and other food waste in the demanding environments of drain lines, grease traps and grease interceptors – meaning schools can now tackle the issues of slow drains, sewage back-ups and unpleasant odours with biodegradable, low toxicity components that minimise their environmental impact.

This, of course, also brings wider operational benefits, with cleaners able to streamline their activities by avoiding the inconvenience of disposing chemical cleaners in a safe and legal manner.

Whilst the environmental case for adopting biological cleaning products has grown exponentially in recent years, there is also an increasingly sizeable body of research to suggest that there is a financial benefit to making the switch.

The lower wholesale price point of chemical cleaners may mean that they appear to be a more cost-effective option for educational institutes operating on tight budgets, but this belief is ultimately a false economy.

The better medium to long term performance of eco-benign products such as the Evogen Professional cleaning range, in place of chemicals within certain cleaning applications, means that they can deliver improved, environmentally-friendly performance and efficiency related financial returns.

With the increased demand for bioscientific products meaning that manufacturers are increasingly able to make efficiency savings through higher production volumes – Genesis Bioscience is itself in the midst of an ambitious facilities expansion programme that will boost manufacturing capacity – the cost-value analysis of purchasing industrial cleaning products will continue to swing in favour of innovative bacterial alternatives.

Whilst a landmark moment that will bring the threat to the front and centre of the public’s attention is yet to materialise, proactive attempts by the likes of the World Health Organisation have an important role to play in making the way that we approach facility management safer for workers, children and the environment.

As a global market leader, Genesis Biosciences is the first company to develop, manufacture and offer both microbial and antimicrobial alternatives to chemical cleaners, because we believe science is the Facility Management industry’s key change facilitator.

Now is the chance for educational institutes to join us in becoming a member of the vanguard willing to demonstrate a forward-thinking approach to facilities management as we tackle one of the 21st century’s biggest global challenges.”