Hasperien Cleaners took over Danville Cleaners on July 19 and converted it to be 100 percent environmentally friendly. The family-owned business is the second green cleaners to open in Contra Costa County.
"I've been looking forward to coming into Danville for over a year," said owner Sung Han Lee. "Now Danville has a choice of how their garments get cleaned."
Green cleaning, also called "wet" cleaning, uses water along with a specially formulated, biodegradable detergent. The machine itself is computer-controlled and designed to clean sensitive, dry-clean-only items without harming them.
No toxic chemicals are used and no hazardous waste is generated, and the process uses far less energy than traditional dry cleaning.
Lee wanted to come to Danville because many of its affluent residents own high end garments, and he wants to prove the system can handle even the most delicate clothing.
"It signifies that green cleaning is acceptable to everywhere - from high end to low end," Lee said.
Customers pay roughly the same for the service and the cost of running a green business is comparable to running a traditional one, he said. He saves money by conserving energy, but that's offset by the cost of the special detergent.
The company's overall electricity consumption has been reduced about 50 percent since going green, said Lee. Water consumption is down by 3,005 gallons per month.
Some people assume that wet cleaning uses more water, but the state-of-the-art machines are very efficient, he said. He can wash 25 pounds of clothes with 18 gallons of water; the average home washing machine uses 60-100 gallons for one load.
"The technology is there, it's just a matter of adapting it to our general practice," said Lee.
Traditional dry cleaners use a solvent called Perchloroethylene, commonly called PERC, which the EPA has identified as a toxin and air contaminant. The state of California has banned use of the chemical by 2010.
Lee chose to convert his cleaning process to nontoxic wet cleaning five years ahead of the mandated schedule.
"I'd rather do it ahead of time than anybody else," he said. "I want to be the leader instead of a follower."
Other cleaners are switching to a hydro-carbon solvent that is nontoxic, but still produces hazardous waste and some greenhouse gas emissions.
"If I was investing money and going over to green, I wanted to go absolute green," he said.
The company, which also has a facility in San Lorenzo and one in Castro Valley, won the Business Environmental Awards by Acterra, a Bay Area environmental nonprofit organization, for creative sustainability practices this year.
The San Lorenzo plant offers open houses, demonstrations and workshops for Bay Area dry cleaners interested in going green.
"I think that really signifies that I am really, really in the forefront in this movement," said Lee.