BY JEREMY SHERE
When it comes to environmental protection, dry cleaners typically don’t win many awards. In fact, they’re notorious polluters. Because of the noxious chemicals they use to clean clothes, many are on local and national lists of hazardous waste generators.
But one local dry cleaner—Bloomington Cleaners, Inc.—has bucked the trend by taking extraordinary measures to be environmentally friendly.
In 2006, spooked by stories about the untidy operations of the cleaner’s previous operator, current co-owner Stephen Arthur took soil samples and, sure enough, found that the grounds were contaminated. Suspecting that dry cleaning chemicals had been leaching into the soil for decades, since the original business opened in the 1970s, Arthur closed the store, excavated the parking lot and part of the building’s interior down to the bedrock, and hired a company to siphon off the toxic waste.
Three years and nearly $400,000 later, Bloomington Cleaners (317 W. 17th St.) is a clean, green “certified environmental dry cleaners.” In 2007, the business won a “Kelley Green Award” given by the IU Kelley School of Business to environmentally conscious local companies. The effort was worthwhile, says Arthur’s son, David, who’s currently buying the business from his parents, “because we live here, I have two small kids, and I don’t want to be responsible for making them or anyone else sick.” Plus, he adds, detoxifying the grounds was a sound business decision in case the family ever decides to sell the company. Banks simply won’t give loans to prospective buyers looking to purchase contaminated land.
More recently, in an effort to prevent spilled chemicals from spoiling the grounds again, Bloomington Cleaners has taken another significant environmental step by investing in Solvair, a new dry cleaning technology that uses a biodegradable cleaning liquid and recycled carbon dioxide in place of polluting chemicals. Where the older machine produced a residue of toxic sludge and contaminated lint that had to be treated as hazardous waste, the new process is entirely pollution free.
“We’ve always tried to have the most current technology in the store, and we think Solvair is a great way to invest in the environment,” David says. “Plus, the new machine is great at cleaning—the whites comes out much whiter, the blacks much blacker.”