Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | November 12, 2007

Organic dry cleaning joins a growing trend

var isoPubDate = ‘November 10, 2007’ 

Chester — It is the mark of all good trends that they expand beyond their original incarnations.

Chai now comes in hot and cold. Facebook is open to everyone. Texas Hold ‘Em can be played on the Internet and watched on TV.

Now organic has moved beyond the produce aisle — having made stops in the hygiene, dairy and meat sections — and left the supermarket entirely to enter the dry cleaners.

A blue-and-white sign outside Woodbury Cleaners in Chester — and two other chain locations in Orange County — advertises “New Organic Dry Cleaning.”

For three years, owner Rex Choe has been using the cleaner — made from highly distilled petroleum — rather than the more common cleaner, perc, cited by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as a potential carcinogen.

Choe learned about the method at a cleaners’ convention and bought the $60,000 machine for his three Orange County locations. His two stores in Sullivan County still use perc. Since he began advertising with today’s “it” word — organic — Choe said he is seeing an increase of 10 percent to 15 percent in customers.

“Eventually it will be everyone, but we are like the first step, first people on the market,” he said.

One of the few perhaps, but not the first, says Marty Dlugatz, third-generation owner of Gilman’s Cleaners in Middletown, where the petroleum-based solvent has been used since the business first opened in 1925.

Dlugatz said the dry-cleaning industry began with the more environmentally-friendly cleaner, but switched in droves when perc came on the market because it was more effective at removing stains.

Now, he says, businesses are coming back to petroleum because of the growing awareness of organic and environmentally safe products.

It indeed might catch the consumer’s attention, says Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist at the Organic Consumers Association, but using the word “organic” is a misnomer.

Though the process is cleaner and more environmentally friendly, it is not organic in the official, USDA-certified sense.

“People don’t know there’s a difference in buying an organic carrot than going to an organic dry cleaner,” he said.

In the literal, chemical sense, organic means anything with carbon, which includes perc. Organic in the common-use sense refers to things made without pesticides or chemicals.

Cleaners have made the switch in increasing numbers because using perc entails greater government regulation, rather than for any great sense of duty toward the environment, said Alan Spielvogel, spokesman at the National Cleaners Association. Ten years ago, more than 90 percent of cleaners used perc; now, it’s about 85 percent, he said.

But for whatever reason they make the change, cleaners are savvy enough to capitalize on the organic craze. It’s a chance for people to get their dry cleaning and feel good about it, too.

“Organic in general has reached the mainstream and you see the Wal-Marts of the world accepting it,” Minowa said. “They’re using the term to lure people.”

Coming tomorrow The debate about what is genuinely organic has farmers fighting for a slice of the market; and consumers are trying to get clear-cut answers.

source: Herald record 


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