Beyond Laundry is one company trying to achieve this ideal. Founder Susan Carpenter Sims bills it as a community laundry center that uses a “synergy” of solar power, water- and energy-efficient machines, rainwater harvesting and greywater recycling.
“Our goal is to not only reduce negative environmental impacts, but create regenerative ones,” she said.
Sims is working with green construction experts at the University of New Mexico, Taos, to design something called the “rainwash system”, which will harvest nearly 30,000 gallons of rainwater a year from the roof to be used in the washers. The water used to run the machines will also be purified and recycled, or it will be used to irrigate a greenhouse, a community food garden and an orchard, all located on the laundromat’s grounds, turning the entire enterprise into a community center.
“As soon as I started thinking about the business model, greywater recycling was just a no-brainer,” said Sims. “If you’re generating that much greywater, it just seemed obvious that you should do something regenerative with it.”
The first laundry center is set to open in Taos, New Mexico, where Sims currently lives, within the next two years. The facility is designed to be a 2,400sq ft-building made of steel, which doesn’t require much energy to produce, is recyclable, and low-cost. It will house 22 efficient washers and 24 dryers, powered mostly by solar. She hopes to franchise across the country, as well as put 10% of Beyond Laundry’s profits toward building similar laundry centers in developing countries.
The biggest challenge has been figuring out ways to make the center as integrative as possible, including how to use the heat from the dryers to heat the water, or looking at whether it’s possible to use the energy generated by the water rushing out of the machines.
Sims says her premise for the enterprise was that it should be a self-sustaining close system. “Value for people and planet is created synergistically and exponentially when people are able to work, play and hang out in a beautiful greenhouse and garden that are nurtured by the water they just used to wash their clothes” Sims said.
Despite its lofty ambitions, Beyond Laundry may still succumb to the hard realities that face any new business. But it demonstrates how circular economy thinking can, with a bit of creativity, be applied to just about any kind of company.