Why are laundry providers for care settings needlessly throwing out good linens?
Our managing director, David Midgley, was asked to write a feature on this topic for leading industry title Tomorrow’s Care. You can read his words in full below, or in the October/November edition of the magazine.
Imagine a thick, fluffy white towel. It’s a good quality one, naturally, as your care home has exemplary standards. It’s been washed only a handful of times.
But despite the vigilance of laundry staff, it must have gone into the industrial drum with something dark blue or black, because it has an unmistakable grey tinge.
Unlike in a four-star hotel, a slight off-colour in a residential setting may not be a huge problem – but there’s certainly a tipping point. If it’s too tinged, or resplendent with a large tomatoey food stain, it does not present a good image for the establishment, and it has to go.
That’s understandable. But when this decision is made, where does that towel go to? Traditionally, the answer would be to landfill or rag, even though there is nothing wrong with the towel. It’s hardly worn at all and it’s completely serviceable.
Many laundries still take this approach, often after attempting to ‘kill or cure’ the towel with extra detergent and a higher temperature. But thanks to advances in technology, there are now other options available – with significant benefits to costs and environmental impact.
Saving money and the environment
It’s much more expensive to replace textiles than to engage a specialist cleaner or dyer to revive them. Laundry houses typically spend 10% of their turnover on topping up stock levels, and much of that outlay is needless.
Day by day, items thrown away might not seem like much, and the cost gain of saving them may not be evident. But every bedsheet, pillowcase or staff uniform adds up.
While very dirty linens are generally a small minority of the commercial washing pile, the sheer scale of the industry means that volumes of textiles being discarded way too early in their life cycle, just because of discoloration or staining, are significant. There is a lot of money to be saved.
Coupled with the benefit to the environment, the prospect of keeping linens in circulation for longer becomes even more of a worthwhile option.
All businesses and organisations are under pressure to increase their green credentials and the care sector is no exception.
Demonstrating an excellent attitude to textile waste is comparatively easy to achieve when set against striving for improvements for other forms of waste – such as endless medical and personal care items that cannot be recycled due to their contamination risk, or single-use plastics in food packaging that will take major change in existing ways of working to combat.
It’s crucial to hang onto textiles because the environmental impact of manufacturing new items is so huge. A total of 70% of the carbon footprint of a poly/cotton bedsheet is accounted for in its manufacture. Just 30% relates to the subsequent washings, ironing and transportation during its life.
The devastation of needless textile production for ‘fast fashion’ has been all over the media in the last 12 months, so it’s likely that this will lead to increased public and professional pressure for commercial laundries to demonstrate a more thoughtful, sustainable way of working.
Forward thinkers in the sector believe this will be simply a matter of time and see it as an additional reason to get ahead of the curve.
There is no question that looking after linens better, and ordering fewer replacement items, can make a significant difference to a company’s environmental credentials as well as its bottom line.
Grey linen made good
So you have linens that don’t look the way they should – though they are free of rips or tears, and they have plenty of wear left in them. What can be done?
Setting them aside and trying a ‘kill or cure’ treatment can be a waste of time, detergent and hot water, when desired results are achievable only 30% of the time.
Smart laundry managers are enlisting specialist cleaners who have a 75% to 80% of restoring whiteness or original colour – and delivering items back to stock for many more washes to come.
Put simply, every piece of laundry – including pricier items such as chefs’ whites and other staff uniforms – successfully cleaned, represents an item that does not have to be re-ordered, and an item that does not have to go to landfill. That makes sense all round.
The science bit
How do they do those stains and that discoloration simply disappear? Regenex has developed a gentle, multi-bath approach based on opening up fibres in a fabric to lift stains.
The company’s methods, calling on over 100 years of textile dyeing expertise from elsewhere in the business, were carefully developed and trialled over two years.
Test fabrics were scrutinised by university and independent laboratories, to make sure the process caused no detriment to wear or strength.
Now, fully piloted, the method is proving to be effective in rescuing the majority of condemned linens that were thought to be indelibly marked by everything from an unacceptable shade of blue-grey, to fake tan, rust, mildew, food or anything else.
Time to dye
Restoring whites and removing stains is not the only option for textiles that don’t look the way care home managers require them to.
Much of the linen being discarded too early has simply lost its colour. A good example would be a buttermilk-coloured napkin that has faded. However good quality the linen items are, they are likely to fade with repeated washings long before the fabric begins to wear out.
The right specialists on board can rejuvenate, or top up, colour, so that items can be returned to stock. The same principle applies for any colour of items – and the costs involved are invariably lower than replacing items with new ones.
Likewise, off-white towel rolls used in dispensers can be dyed blue to continue their lifespan, or towels can be given a darker hue for new uses.
The UK’s habit of confining old textiles to landfill – 1.36m tonnes per annum, says waste charity WRAP – costs £82m every year. An estimated 14% of all textiles, according to the Textile Services Sector, are in use in healthcare, meaning we are a big part of the picture – and the problem.
Yet changing the way we do things, taking more care to get the most out of our textiles, has such clear benefits. Our prediction is that 10 years down the line, a grey tinge will no longer be a valid reason to throw out a good towel and our wasteful days will be behind us.
Regenex is offering a FREE 400kg trial to any new customer. Get in contact for more information.