The UK’s textile waste issues have been in the news lately with the government’s efforts to encourage more re-use and recycling – and hospitality is beginning to do its bit, in new and specific ways, as our technical director PAUL HAMILTON wrote in Luxury Hospitality magazine recently …
Historically, hotels, conference centres and other hospitality settings have had very limited options for processing damaged and stained linen, and the vast majority has been ragged early.
All sorts of substances can mark such material, from oil and food to rust and mildew, as well as fake tan – which, as all laundry operatives know, leaves an unsightly brown stain which can seem impossible to lift.
These habits are unsustainable and must change, especially when considering that 70% of the carbon footprint of a bedsheet, for example, is emitted during its manufacture.
According to a recent study by Labfresh, the UK produces 206,456 tonnes of textile waste per year, making us the fourth largest producer of textile waste in Europe
Only a small proportion is recycled or reused, with more than half sent to landfill and almost a third is incinerated. As a track record, this is shameful and while fast fashion is seen as the big culprit, the commercial linen sector must also take its share of the blame.
The good news, however, is that professionals tasked with looking after linen are waking up to new ways of working – and together we must do all we can to make sure this is not a case of too little, too late.
Minimising manufacture is crucial
When it comes to doing the right thing by the environment, a lot of emphasis is put on the careful disposal of materials – and that if unwanted goods are recycled, the major responsibilities have been met.
But the ’waste hierarchy’ enshrined by the EU Waste Framework Directive and now intrinsic to UK guidance – which sets out the best options for managing waste in terms of what is best for the environment — has a very different perspective. Recycling is way down the ranking, just above the least desirable destinations for waste, of landfill and incineration.
Far more effective in protecting the environment is trying to manufacture as little material as possible in the first place. If and when goods are no longer needed, or unsuitable for their original purpose, they should ideally be re-used rather than recycled.
This brings us back to the subject of linen and the need to get as much use as possible from every item before it is ragged or worse. Every double duvet cover, for example, takes 10,000 litres of water to make so it’s crucial for each item to be in circulation for as long as feasibly possible.
Dyeing as an often-overlooked solution
There is no tradition in the UK for laundries and hospitality firms to work hard to love linen longer – but times are changing and, as companies look to find more sustainable solutions across all operations, our attitudes to textile management are in the spotlight.
Where businesses used to think a few pieces here and there, in the bin – day in, day out – was no big deal, attitudes are changing, and the industry is much more conscious that waste linen soon adds up.
Any commercial organisation that wants to partner with the public sector, for example, must be able to demonstrate a serious commitment to sustainability or risk being passed over for contracts.
White towels typically start greying, or succumb to stains, long before fabric wears out. And tough, polyester tableware supplied in a variety of hues will fade and become less attractive while the items themselves remain serviceable.
So, in many cases, dyeing and re-dyeing items makes textiles as good as new, and fit for many more months or even years’ service in commercial contexts. Regenex has just published a white paper, Don’t Dump It, Dye It, on this very topic.
Heading towards net zero
For hospitality companies and healthcare settings, net zero ideals are still a long way off, if seriously on the agenda at all – though in many organisations, ambitious plans are now in motion to make this happen in the longer term.
Minimising impact on the environment requires detailed analysis of all areas of operations – and getting into better habits with linen is a relatively easy and quick way to make a big difference.
Put simply, to reduce carbon emissions, managers must hang onto every piece for as long as possible, without compromising customer expectations for clean, blemish-free stock.
Top-up items should be ordered only when essential, in order to minimise the impact of fresh manufacturing – as recommended in the waste hierarchy guidance.
While companies will naturally turn their attention to their own water usage and matters such as the use of detergents, they must also think about the impact their suppliers have on natural resources.
In all, unless fabric is damaged with holes or tears, decision makers must strive to avoid any ‘early exit’ of linen at all.
New innovations in coloration
For many companies, as technology has advanced, sophisticated stain removal to facilitate a return to pristine white linens has become a viable option, saving 35% to 50% on the cost of buying replacement items.
And for items that cannot be revived to acceptable standards, but are otherwise serviceable, dyeing and re-dyeing offers economies more significant still, of at least 50% compared with purchasing new.
Hospitality companies often have uses for towels, for example, that are not white or pale in shade. In spa facilities where fake tan can be a perennial issue, it makes a lot more sense for textiles to be rich, deep shades such as brown, burgundy or aubergine – to match a company’s brand look.
Repurposing marked white towels for this purpose is cheaper and more environmentally sustainable than ordering new ones in the desired hue.
Elsewhere, downgraded linens used as cleaning cloths – another good practice in itself – can be dyed for example, bright pink or yellow, so that they are easily differentiated from bedding and other items. The life of continuous roller towels can be doubled with a re-colouration to a deep blue, once the original white becomes blemished.
Topping-up is also increasingly favoured as a practice, for example in polyester tablecloths and napkins which can fade long before they wear out. Such a measure can lengthen the life of tableware as much as 85%.
Workwear too – at the more expensive end of the linen required – can see its life significantly prolonged by a re-dye.
In conclusion, it’s reasonable to state that no good linen should be thrown away – chiefly because, as we’re acutely aware in these times, there is no such thing as ‘away’.
Laundries and hospitality firms are still binning perfectly functional stock, simply because it is discoloured. So, now is the time to get creative about onward uses for stained items.
One thing is clear, we cannot sustain current rates of manufacture and waste disposal in the UK and across the globe — and this includes what happens in the laundry sector.
So, any innovation in the treatment of linen will allow the industry to step up and play its part among wider, societal efforts.
Forward-thinking owners and managers business owners know it’s now or never – and that by becoming early innovators, they will reap the longer-term rewards.