Come tomorrow, Fairfielders interested in working toward a cleaner environment can help achieve this goal when they have their clothes cleaned.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, Fabricare Cleaners is eliminating all plastic bags from its dry cleaning orders and replacing them with reusable convertible bags. On Earth Day only, the convertible bags will be distributed for free at Fabricare's locations in Darien and Fairfield. Area high school students wearing the bags will help draw attention to the effort from outside the cleaners' storefronts.

After Thursday, customers will have to pay a one-time, $5 fee for the bag, which can hold about 30 pieces of clothing. On the return, the bags hold about five to six pieces of clothing, so a customer would receive five bags.

Mike Astorino, co-owner of Fabricare, is confident that the convertible bags will be well received by customers, particularly in Westport, which banned plastic bags last year and is a town that about 100 of Fabricare's customers call home.

"We're going to roll this out in Westport," he said. "We figured that would be a good town to test market it."

"I think now people are really just looking for less packaging and less things to throw out," he added.

And when it comes to cleaner services, people need not look any further. The program will eliminate the approximately 200,000 plastic bags that Fabricare uses each year.

While that number may seem like a drop in the bucket when stacked up against the 2.5 to 3 billion plastic bags used annually in the U.S., Astorino believes that being environmentally responsible is not only the right thing to do, it is good business.

Last year, the company switched to biodegradable plastic bags, and it has cut back on the amount of paper packaging used to cover clothing when it is returned to the customer.

Other efforts undertaken include:

"¢ Reduced the production schedule from six days to five. "Working five long days and closing the plant for one day saves on fuel and energy."

"¢ Upgraded the plant to be more energy efficient by reclaiming unused steam to reheat water and help boilers work less.

"¢ Partnered with the power company to change lighting and machinery for better efficiency.

A clean history

"Most of our business is on the road," Astorino said, noting how 65 percent of Fabricare's customers have their laundry picked up and delivered to their house -- from Greenwich to Ridgefield and everywhere in between.

The clientele has been developed over the last three decades, beginning in Darien in the late 1970s when Astorino's father-in-law, Gene Hollinger, started the business. Astorino took over about 18 years ago, and now runs the operation with his long-time friend, Tim Driver.

The Norwalk-based company still operates a storefront in Darien and retains two locations in Fairfield, one at Harry's corner on the Post Road and the other at the Fairfield Train Station -- which was acquired in 2008 when it bought out Zoots.

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