New EPA rule will affect plant services operations

Nov. 5, 2003
Users are now responsible for the disposal of rental "shop" towels.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing a new rule that will require all disposable wipers and rental "shop" towels to adhere to federal guidelines for use and disposal. Previously, only disposable wipers were required to follow these guidelines.

Companies often selected rental towels because they assumed the commercial laundry would be responsible for any environmental problems connected with cleaning rental towels. Under the new rule, however, the user, rather than the laundry, is responsible for any environmental discharges. Furthermore, the rule requires that towels be pretreated before they are sent to the laundry. This could increase the cost of rental towels because most laundries will need to add pre-treatment equipment, unless users agree to handle pretreatment in house.

To adhere to the new guidelines, companies must watch the entire waste handling and disposal process carefully. End-users are responsible for all pollution problems created, directly or indirectly, from their wipers or towels. If a company is renting towels, it must work closely with its laundry contractor to prevent any "surprises" during the wastewater disposal process.

Currently, more than 95 percent of the world's manufacturing plants use disposable wipers and rent shop towels for commercial maintenance and repair. Individually, plants use anywhere from 10,000 wipers per year to 100,000 wipers per month.