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The environmental man.

A dry cleaners isn't the likely place to find an environmental hero. But George Kelly, owner of Snow White Cleaners in Anchorage, is one of five people statewide recognized as a public health hero by members of Alaska Public Health Improvement Process.

Kelly has been in the dry cleaning business on and off for over 35 years. He started in the business when he was in high school, came back to it after serving in Vietnam, and has been with it ever since. He still bears the scars of his service. His right hand is callused, hard and rough like sandpaper, the victim of Agent Orange. Kelly has been environmentally conscious ever since.

He began to seriously question how his dry cleaning business dealt with its chemical byproducts when his daughter was young. He realized that how he chose to operate his business affected the environment and ultimately the future of his daughter and the world.

"I want to be part of the solution," Kelly said.

His first opportunity came after he attended a seminar on hazardous waste in the early 1980s, sponsored by the League of Women Voters in Anchorage.

"I was surprised to learn what a low opinion they had of dry cleaners," said Kelly, whose name tag identified him as an executive of an Anchorage dry cleaning company. "We were the bad guys and I didn't like it."

Although hazardous waste was rapidly becoming a global issue, Kelly couldn't find much research to help him reduce pollution; so he built his own reclamation system and patented it.

"The cost was high for small business," Kelly said. "You cannot avoid the burden of environmental regulations, but you can avoid the penalties and the stigma of being a bad guy."

Today Kelly advocates for quick and efficient access to information to, help small businesses manage their environmental problems. He says businesses can now get help from the Department of Environmental Conservation's Community Assistance and Information and Compliance Assistance offices.

Kelly has moved with the times from "how to properly dispose of my waste" in the 1980s to "how to prevent waste" in the 1990s. Years ago, Snow White Cleaners had a number of offices scattered throughout the city. His efforts to reduce hazardous waste and to pioneer pollution prevention and energy efficiency led him to consolidate. Two stores-one located in Eagle River and the other on the corner of Minnesota and Northern Lights-collect laundry for the main store, located at 300 E. 5th Avenue, where Kelly processes the dry cleaning.

Kelly has reduced his use of hazardous chemicals by 30 percent over the last two years. He posts pollution prevention information on the employee bulletin board and he conducts safety meetings for his drivers.

"Consolidating our stores has reduced pollution," Kelly said. "We used to have a store on every corner Now one driver goes out on a pickup and delivery route."

Kelly used to take 1,970 pounds of waste to the hazardous waste facility, now he takes less than 100 pounds per year. He uses a filtration system, a wet cleaning system, and continually monitors equipment to make sure it is properly used and calibrated. Kelly also has established a policy for purchasing nonhazardous materials; he reuses hangers; and he recycles the cardboard boxes the hangers come in.

Kelly volunteers his time to develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts. He is a member of the Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation's pilot Leadership Program - a program that is being built to reward environmentally responsible businesses in Alaska.

The goal of the project is to encourage voluntary community involvement to make a path for other small businesses wanting to protect public health. He has received multiple pollution prevention and community service awards since 1985 in recognition of his efforts to reduce hazardous waste produced from his dry cleaning business.

"If a business receives recognition (for making a safer environment), other businesses will see what you're doing and get on the bandwagon," Kelly said. "Ultimately, it will improve the public's health."
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Title Annotation:Snow White Cleaners owner George Kelly
Author:Simono, Lisa
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:676
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