How care home managers’ established ideas on the lifecycle of linen are shifting

Bins brimming with textile waste are becoming a thing of the past at many care home laundries as David Midgley, our managing director recently explained in Tomorrow’s Care magazine.

All businesses are increasingly aware of the need to reduce, reuse and recycle, and care homes and their laundries are no exception. As the Covid situation eases, savvier owners and managers are reviving and renewing environmental policies – and looking for ways to cut carbon consumption.

A demonstrable commitment to sustainability is not just ‘nice to have’ and to talk about in publicity materials, it’s absolutely essential for providers of all shapes and sizes to compete in a crowded market.

No longer are the disruptions of the pandemic an excuse to put such matters on hold and worry about them later. In its Global Risks Report 2021, The World Economic Forum put infectious diseases only fourth on its list of major troublemakers for the public and private sectors in the months and years ahead.

More pressing problems, according to the WEF’s renowned analysts, will be extreme weather, climate change action failure and human environmental damage – and it’s not just the FTSE 350 companies who must address this.

All organisations, large and small, including care homes and their laundries, are working harder to take care with the world’s resources, and minimise their impact on our planet – particularly if they want to win contracts with larger players, or funding from banks and other investors.

Lloyds Banking Group, for one example, has announced its intention to work towards net zero among businesses it finances by 2050. While there are a myriad of ways for care homes to be greener, getting the most out of every piece of linen is a good way to make big improvements, fast. This is chiefly because past habits have been so bad.

Until recently, care home laundries sent tonne after tonne of good linen to rag or landfill, simply because it was stained or blemished. Bins were brimming with decent stock, discarded way too early in its lifecycle.

Thankfully technology is advancing, and specialist cleaning has recently become available – meaning that the average operation should be able to cut condemnation of linen, as long as it isn’t ripped or torn, to a quarter of previous levels. Tough marks such as rust, iodine and mould can now be lifted, restoring whites and colours to high standards, without weakening fabric with harsh processes.

Care homes’ ability to keep bedding, towels, workwear and other items in circulation for longer has wider positive implications for the UK’s considerable textile waste problem which has fallen under the international spotlight in recent years, leading to the ambitious WRAP 2030 sustainability targets.

Leading businesses, representing more than half of UK clothing and textile sales, have already signed up to Textiles 2030, committing to reducing their carbon impacts by 50%, and water impacts by 30%, as well as working together to introduce more circular approaches to what they do.

Now more care homes and laundries are in a position to step up, we’re seeing new ways of working emerging – for example, companies getting together to share transport carbon costs of linen processing. Soon, the players in these sectors who don’t actively engage with the need to be more sustainable will find themselves in the minority.

Not only could they be at a disadvantage in being a chosen or approved provider, they may find themselves unable to reliably source their usual volumes of top-up stock at a reasonable cost, due to instability in global cotton markets.

Shortages of processing chemicals have led to drastic price increases in raw cotton recently, and Uyghur labour issues in China mean buyers are reassessing their supply chains.

So, in all, it’s clear that developing thriftier habits with linen is becoming a key concern for the care sector in 2021 and beyond – and that changes made now, and kept going, will pay dividends for years to come.

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