Water, Waste, and Cleaning Of Buildings In A Post-COVID World

In a recent post, we discussed energy management in buildings in a post-COVID world. In this post, we’ll dive into some sustainability considerations for water use, waste management, and cleaning procedures as building managers plan for increased building occupancy over the coming weeks and months.

For the past few months, the message about washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water has been hammered home. Additionally, people are cleaning and disinfecting more frequently. These behaviors (plus others) could increase building water usage as people go back to work and school. While building managers should keep occupant health at the forefront of their planning, there are some strategies that could help reduce future water use. Using EPA WaterSense products could help make sure equipment is more water efficient than older products. Touchless automatic faucets could also be an upgrade to consider. It’s good practice to turn the water off while lathering (the CDC does not have much data to show viruses transfer by touching faucets), and motion sensors will help by automatically turning on and off water as needed. This will help save rather than wasting an additional 20 seconds of water as someone scrubs their hands with soap.

Increased waste is also a growing concern among professionals who are thinking about sustainability in a post-COVID world. Over the past few years, people have started using items like reusable bags, utensils, coffee mugs, and water bottles more frequently in shared settings like offices and schools. However, due to heightened concerns about spreading COVID-19, single-use products are becoming more popular again. Building managers should keep this in mind and do their best to streamline and reduce waste by encouraging responsible consuming. For example, even if something can only be used one time, is there a recyclable or compostable option? Compostable utensils and plates are more common as demand has increased over the past few years, and if a building participates in a commercial composting service, this could limit the waste that goes to the landfill.

Single-use disinfecting wipes have also become popular cleaning tools (and in many areas of the country, were almost impossible to find at the beginning of the stay-at-home orders). However, if laundering services are available (and water efficient!), it might be just as effective to clean using reusable items such as microfiber cloths and an effective disinfecting agent. The EPA has put out a list of approved disinfectants that they recommend using against the virus. According to Green Seal, while disinfectants cannot be completely harmless, there are green cleaning strategies that building teams can consider. Additional resources to check out as you prepare a new cleaning/disinfecting plan for your facility include these from the EPA, CDC, and the American Cleaning Institute (ACI).

The Environment and Climate Change teams who participated in the CoreNet Hackathon in April and May thought about these topics as well. Check the Team Deliverables section for more building strategies to consider for renewed building occupancy.