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Executive Mat Service is cleaning up the print industry with its innovative recycling program

Small Business: It all comes out in the wash

Aug 1, 2012

by Alix Kemp

Printing is a dirty business. Between print runs, the presses need to be wiped clean with rags or paper towels to remove all the ink before the next set of plates can be loaded. But those inks can be toxic, and the towels used to clean the machinery are deemed hazardous – so much so that they can’t legally be sent to a landfill or run through a washing machine. But with no way to properly clean and dispose of the contaminants, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), many printers simply throw away or rinse out their used rags anyway, potentially introducing hazardous chemicals into the water supply in the process.

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So when a printing client approached Kim Caron, the owner of Executive Mat Service, about making printing rags, he knew he had to find a better solution for recycling or disposing of the used product.

“I started looking into it a little closer, trying to find out what other people were doing, and I found out that nobody was doing it legally. All that stuff was being flushed into the sewer,” Caron says.

Caron introduced an innovative towel-recycling program that lets clients rent printer towels and return them to Executive Mat Service to be cleaned. It’s cheaper for clients – it costs $1.15 to buy and properly clean a cloth rag, but only 25 cents to rent one from Caron’s company – and ensures solvents are kept out of the sewage system.

But Caron still needed to find a way to deal with the VOCs. So the company devised a system where the solvents can be collected from contaminated towels, then used in place of natural gas to fuel a specially constructed steam boiler, which, in turn, provides power to the company’s facilities. As an added bonus, the fuel generated from the reclaimed solvents is actually a cleaner-burning fuel than natural gas.

The program has been so successful that Caron hopes to expand it in the near future, not just recycling VOCs for energy generation but also any and all waste created by the business. “Our goal is to have zero landfill – to take all our internal waste and convert it to energy,” he says. That might just make Executive Mat Service the cleanest laundry around.


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