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Green cleaners

Local dry cleaners find alternatives to toxic practices

By Alicia Wallace, Camera Business Writer
May 9, 2005

When Noel Bennett and three of his partners wanted to go into business, Bennett’s Boulderness came into play.

“Having grown up in Boulder, it’s easy to get infused with that environmentally friendly part,” said Bennett, who also is a mortgage broker.

Two years ago, he and his partners - an insurance agent and two lawyers - founded Revolution Cleaners, a dry cleaning business that uses liquid carbon dioxide to clean clothes and also touts eco-friendly practices, including biodiesel-powered delivery vans, hemp laundry bags and bamboo flooring.

The company already has three locations - two in Denver and a 9-month-old one on North Broadway in Boulder.

On a sunny Thursday, Helen Cuccaro, of Boulder, stopped by the location at 4680 Broadway to pick up some clothes.

“I just wanted to try the environmentally friendly product,” she said. “I’m really pleased with it.”

When clothes are dropped off, they are sent to the company’s plant in Denver, where they are cleaned in big steel machines by either liquid carbon dioxide or wet-cleaning processes.

“We’re out to change the industry,” said Rusty Perry, one of Revolution’s managing partners.

The industry is one where the majority of dry cleaners use solvents and detergents to clean clothes that might otherwise shrink or bleed if cleaned in water. And according to the International Fabricare Institute, the solvent used by about 85 percent of the dry cleaning industry is perchloroethylene, also known as perc. Perc is a toxic chemical, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The extent of any health effects from perc depends on the amount of perc and the length of exposure, the EPA said. Some laboratory studies have shown that perc has caused cancer in rats and mice when they swallow and inhale it, and in 1995 the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that perc is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

In Southern California, air quality officials voted to ban the use of perc and make all dry cleaners be perc-free by 2020.

During the past 25 years, dry cleaners have taken steps to reduce emissions of perc into the environment, according to the International Fabricare Institute, which said solvents used in dry cleaning are not dangerous.

In 2003, perc consumption in the dry cleaning industry was 39 million pounds, nearly 10 times less than the 361 million pounds used in 1979, according to the Textile Care Allied Trades Association.

Like Revolution Cleaners, a couple of other local cleaners are hoping to make some green out of providing alternatives to perc.

Burak Yorumez and his two brothers started GreenEco Cleaners, 2850 Iris Ave., in Boulder about 3 1/2 years ago. The one-price cleaners uses hydrocarbon solvents, petroleum-based alternatives to perc.
The equipment is a little pricey for the cleaners, which charges a standard price of $1.99 on all garments, but Yorumez said building a good demand and volume keeps the price low for the customers.

“They don’t really trust us just because of our price,” he said. “But once they do try us, they love us.”

The hydrocarbon solvents are also used at the 6-month-old Enviro Cleaners, 2859 28th St.

“It’s much safer for the customer. It’s much safer here, too,” said Hoo Namn Kang, Enviro Cleaners’ owner.

However, one of the alternatives to perc also has recently come under fire. Preliminary studies of a silicone-based solvent billed as “environmentally friendly and non-toxic” indicate there may be a cancer hazard associated with the Siloxane D5 solvent, the EPA said.

As those studies progress, Revolution Cleaners’ Perry said getting in on the ground floor of liquid carbon dioxide cleaning could be a boon for businesses like his. Revolution plans to have seven locations open by the end of this year and plans to expand to other markets - including Seattle and Boise - within five years.

“Right now it’s a great time to get into the industry,” Perry said. “The industry needs to change.”

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at (303) 473-1332 or wallacea@dailycamera.com.