Printech Archive
Re: Shop towels: Launderable vs. disposable

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From: Wayne Pferdehirt (
Date: Fri Jan 15 1999 - 16:01:11 CST

A couple of points on this one:

Be sure to check out the fact sheet on the PNEAC Web site on managing
used wipes and towels. Go to "fact sheets and case studies" then
"all technologies" then "solvents/shop towels."

A big plus for launderable shop towels is the greatly reduced
liability compared to landfilling wipes. The liability issue for
wipes can be addressed by sending them to a fuel blender or to
municipal solid waste incinerator. Printers whom I have worked with
that use wipes and take the risk of environmental liability seriously
dispose of used wipes via combustion rather than landfilling.

Another option for handling used wipes was discussed in the 12/2
PNEAC/SGIA videoconference. Tom Ravn of Serigraph (West Bend, WI)
said that they dryclean "disposable" wipes several times before
discarding. The drycleaned wipes are used for "first pass"
cleaning, and new ones are introduced for final pass cleaning and
critical applications.

Another screen printer in the videoconference, Modernistic, Inc.,
discussed their savings by going to launderable towels. They
addressed the quality issue by specifying in their contract w the
towel service that Modernistic is to only receive new towels. Costs
more, but addresses the need while minimizing liability.


> Tory:
> There is no clear answer regarding the benefit of reusable versus
> disposable towels. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a
> life cycle analysis performed on the issue. However, there are three
> critical concerns regarding the recommendation of one towel over
> another and that is cost, performance, and regulations. Of the
> three, performance and regulations are the governing factors. If the
> printer is using a cleaning solution that contains a RCRA listed
> solvent, then the towels will have to be managed and disposed as
> hazardous waste. If the solvent exhibits a RCRA characteristic, then
> the towels will have to be managed as hazardous if they exhibit the
> characteristic. Even if the printer does not use a solvent that
> would be classified as hazardous, once it is a waste, or the towels
> do not exhibit a characteristic, disposable towels represent an
> additional Superfund liability. Typically, reusable towels that are
> properly managed (e.g., no free liquids, covered containers, and a
> contract with a laundry) are not classified as hazardous even if the
> solvent used to clean has RCRA listed constituents.
> Performance also plays a key role. If the printer needs towels for
> certain critical cleaning operations, then reusable may not suffice.
> Laundered reusable towels can contain debris or be abrasive enough
> to scratch delicate plates, cylinders, and screens. Therefore, there
> may not be an option on which towel to use.
> The last item is cost. The rental/cleaning costs of the reusables
> may be less than the purchase and disposal costs of disposables.
> Also, the Superfund liability costs can be enormous. However, costs
> are regional and nature and the printer is in a better position to
> judge this issue.
> Gary Jones

Wayne P. Pferdehirt, P.E., AICP
Director, Master of Engineering in Professional Practice Program
Specialist, Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension
610 Langdon Street, Room 532, Madison, WI 53703-1195
Phone: 608/265-2361 Fax: 608/262-6250

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