The sustainable and efficient use of resources continues to be an area of emphasis for companies’ environmental responsibility initiatives. Many organizations are striving to reduce their environmental impact, and in the process save money, by reducing their use of energy and natural resources—including water.
An area that companies tend to overlook when assessing their environmental impact is the restroom, which accounts for about 37% of water usage in the average office, according to the EPA.
Beyond fixing dripping faucets and installing low-flow toilets, companies should consider the hand hygiene products used in their offices or facilities, which can have a significant impact on the total water consumption.
Research on Hand-Washing Practices
Wall-mounted, non-aerosol foam hand wash systems are an alternative to traditional liquid soaps. In these systems, an integrated pump in the cartridge mixes a special formula liquid soap with air to increase its volume by 10 times and provide an instant lather for hand washing.
Using foam soap rather than a liquid soap results in considerable reduced water usage, according to independent research conducted in the UK in 2009.
Researchers asked 150 people to dirty their hands to a moderate level and then wash their hands—once with traditional liquid/lotion soap and once with foaming soap. Participants used their hand-washing method of choice without specific instruction. Researchers measured the water flow rate for each faucet. They also rotated which product was tested first to avoid order effects, and all the participants used liquid/lotion or foam soaps on a day-to-day basis.
Within the controlled study, participants used an average of 1,758ml (0.464 gallons) of water with the faucet on for 21.8 seconds when testing the lotion soap. For foam soap, the amount of water used was reduced to 1,475ml (0.390 gallons) of water with the faucet on for 19.7 seconds—representing a 16 percent water savings.
Presuming people wash their hands three times a day at work, an office of 100 people currently using lotion soap would save approximately 20,000 liters, or about 5,283 gallons, of water per year simply by changing to foam soap.
The study also looked at the different methods people used to wash their hands. There were three main hand-washing methods used during the test that represented the standard practice of about 85 percent of respondents:
1. Soap dispensed, faucet on, lather made and rinsed
2. Faucet on, soap dispensed, lather made and rinsed
3. Soap dispensed, lathered, faucet on to rinse
Most people demonstrated the same hand-washing method with both products, which shows that the reduction in water use is directly related to the product rather than the hand-washing method used.
By adopting the most efficient foam soap hand-washing technique—dispense, lather, faucet on, and rinse—water savings can be increased even further.
In the study, implementing this revised method reduced water usage to 951ml (0.251 gallons) with the tap on for 13.5 seconds—45 percent less than the amount of water used with participants’ chosen hand-washing method and lotion soap. The researchers noted that about 20% of the participants were already using this recommended method. Additionally, nearly 70% said the recommended technique was as, or more, effective than their usual hand-washing method.
Again, this data can be extrapolated for a typical office of 100 people washing their hands three times a day, and companies could reason that changing both the product type and the hand-washing method could result in an annual reduction in water usage of as much as 56,000 liters (approximately 14,800 gallons).
Benefits Beyond Water Conservation
Additionally, switching to foam soap has additional benefits to the environment and a company’s bottom line.
Reduced Energy – As less water is required for rinsing, there are also savings in the energy needed to heat the water.
Improved Sustainability – Because chemicals are not needed to thicken the soap (the lather is created by adding air), foam soaps biodegrade more easily, protecting the environment.
Less Product Needed – As foam soap is eight times more spreadable than the lotion soap, 36 percent less product is used on average. Research shows, however, that the same efficacy is delivered from foam even with less product.
Reduced Packaging – Using a foam hand wash translates to approximately one-third more washes in the same amount of packaging—meaning that the cartridge has to be replaced less often, which ultimately saves time and money.
Changing hand hygiene products to a foam soap and educating employees on the preferred hand-washing method could result in significant water reduction—making it an environmentally and fiscally responsible choice.
Information for this article was contributed by Media4change (UK) Ltd, as commissioned by Deb Group Ltd.
Liked the article? Why not leave us a comment.