Organic absorbents include products made from coconut husks, newspaper, sawdust, cellulose fiber, cotton, wood pellets, etc. They don’t pose the threats that can be prevalent in silica-based absorbents or “kitty litter.” Unlike old-school absorbents, newer organic products are largely dust-free, non-carcinogenic and safe to inhale. Some are safe enough that workers can clean their hands with them and tools can just be wiped off. Products include loose absorbents, booms and socks.
The environmental benefits of organic/natural absorbents go beyond safe air quality. Ideally, these products should be recyclable, leave a small carbon footprint and be made of renewable resources.
For instance, SpillFix® is made of coir, a natural and renewable resource that is free of any chemicals, toxins and dust. It is a byproduct from coconut husk processing. The coir is washed, heat treated, screened and graded to a unique absorbent specification before being packaged.
Safe disposal is an important criterion for an absorbent. It should be landfill-safe and recyclable. It’s an added plus if spent absorbent product containing hydrocarbon spills can be used as a fuel source for creating energy and can be incinerated, leaving zero residue.
Organic absorbents should be inert, biologically stable and free of harmful micro-organisms.
Some natural solutions actually absorb spills. This makes them more efficient, requiring less product to get the job done. In some cases, this can amount to using 80% less product. And while traditional absorbents are used once, then disposed of, there are some natural alternatives that can be used over and over again. That’s a significant savings, not only in the amount of product purchased, but in the cost of disposal.
Because many natural products are more absorbent, the method of cleanup is changing. “The best way to clean up a spill is to apply the organic absorbent around the perimeter which stops it from spreading,” says Joe Davids, of the Galuku Group (North America). “It is then swept with a stiff broom, removing the entire oil spill from the floor surface. This is repeated a few times until the spill is completely gone.”
Traditional absorbents are poured on a spill and it can take hours to blot the liquid, rendering the worksite unusable and potentially dangerous. Kitty litter sometimes lies around a workplace, creating hazardous areas that workers will walk over. This means they will be tracking dust and crystalline silica everywhere. Organic absorbents can be faster, some taking up to 85% less time to clean up a spill compared with clay-based absorbents.
Another hazard created by traditional absorbents is damage to floors and equipment. Some cause divots and grooves on floors and work surfaces, creating unsafe conditions that require repair. Kitty litter can damage machinery and equipment when it gets caught in engines and gears, requiring expensive repairs or replacements. Most organic solutions don’t cause any damage.
Organic products are generally significantly lighter in weight than kitty litter and other older products. In addition to lower transportation and disposal fees, their weight makes it safer for workers who no longer have to lift 50 lb bags. Since kitty litter must be shoveled after it collects the spilled liquid, this means more heavy lifting for employees. Lighter absorbents create a safer workplace with fewer injuries, and that means less liability for companies.