Editor’s note: Welcome to the third post in our series on Absorbent Training. We hope you find the series to be helpful in explaining the basics of absorbents.
New Pig got its start shoveling grit – lots of it. And it was a lot of work. At the time, clay cat litter was the state-of-the-art in absorbents – and even then, we wondered why you had to make a mess to clean up a mess. But after all this time – and a ton of better products to use – there are still people who insist on cleaning up spills with clay. If you’re one of them, it’s time to realize you’re hanging on to a useless sack of grit.
Here are 9 reasons to let it go:
Reason #1: Clay can ruin your health.
Check out the health warning on the bag. Clay contains crystalline silica, a mineral that is known to cause silicosis – an irreversible lung disease that causes fluid buildup and scar tissue in the lungs, reducing your ability to breathe.
Absorbent mats and socks are silica-free with little to no dust.
Reason #2: Clay damages machinery, engines and moving parts.
Gritty dust and clay particles find their way into all sorts of nooks and crannies – including engines, gears and other moving parts. This causes premature wear and unscheduled downtime. Who needs that?
How much of a problem is it, really? To find out, we sent ten 20 ml samples of motor oil containing clay dust articles from two leading brands of clay-based loose absorbent to an SAE/ASTM-certified laboratory. A 1-hour, standard ASTM D4172 ball bearing wear test determined that just 20 dust-size particles could reduce part life by 20%. Ouch!
And, when it’s not busy wearing out machines, it’s scratching up the finish on your floors and ruining any hope of a smooth finish for anything you might want to run through a paint booth.
Reason #3: Clay gets tracked everywhere.
Clay sticks to your shoes, so it – and the oil on it – goes wherever you go: into offices, lobbies, the lunchroom. So, now the mess is everywhere instead of just on the spill.
Absorbent mats for aisles and walkways lay flat and absorb dirt and oil as they are walked on so that it doesn’t get tracked everywhere.
Reason #4: Clay is labor intensive.
Few will argue that spills are messy. Clay makes them messier, increasing the area and the volume of waste material that has to be swept up and shoveled to bring the area back to normal. The bigger the area that’s covered with clay, the longer it takes someone to clean it up. You’re actually making a mess to clean up a mess.
With absorbent mats and socks, you just put them down, let them do their job, and then pick them up. That’s it. No sweeping. No shoveling.
Reason #5: Clay doesn’t really absorb anything.
It’s made from crushed rocks. What looks like absorption is really just the liquid coating the surface of each solid particle, which means that over time, all of that liquid seeps right back onto the floor.
Contained absorbents are designed to wick liquids into the fibers of the mat or the filler of the sock to capture liquids and hold onto them so that you don’t have a second mess to tackle.
Reason #6: Clay is heavy!
A bag of clay usually weighs 40 to 50 pounds. In addition to being heavy, the bags are also awkward to handle, increasing the risk of lower back strain.
A mat pad weighs about 1/10 of a pound. A full bale of mat weighs 17 pounds – less than half of a bag of clay – and it absorbs about eight times more than a 40–pound bag!
Reason #7: Clay increases slip and fall risks.
When people see clay on the floor, it increases their perception that the floor is not slippery, so they may not take the proper precautions when walking over it. Because clay doesn’t dry a floor, a portion of the spill still remains, creating a slippery surface that can lead to a slip and fall injury.
Absorbent mats hug the floor, picking up liquids from above and below. They also wick to spread liquids to unsaturated areas, which prevents puddles in any given area of the mat and helps prevent it from becoming too slippery.
Reason #8: Clay isn’t as cheap as you might think.
Sure, a 40-pound bag is usually less than $15, but you’ll need the whole bag for a 3-4 gallon spill. Add in labor and disposal costs, and it’s not the bargain that it first appears to be. A single sheet of mat is less than $1.
Reason #9: Clay decreases your disposal options.
Essentially, there are two ways to get rid of spent absorbent materials: landfilling and incinerating. Land disposal can introduce the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) liability, and that’s just about all you can do with clay. Mats can often be incinerated or become part of a fuels blending program that uses industrial wastes to generate heat and other forms of energy. The residual ash is then often used to make concrete – limiting a waste generator’s future liability.
Because it is a rock, clay has a very limited fuel value and cannot be incinerated, decreasing disposal options. Polypropylene mats have a high fuel value, with less than 1% ash, making them an excellent choice for incineration. And because they’re non-biodegradable, they also help to prevent leaching in landfills.