Making linens last longer
20 February 2019
The sheer volume of discarded textiles at an average hospital or healthcare setting can go un-noticed – almost hidden as part of the wider waste headache. But linens are one area, unlike many others, in which it is relatively easy to increase sustainability and save money, argues David Midgley, managing director, Regenex
Facilities managers in both the public and private sector are under increasing pressure to lower their organisations’ carbon footprint. But up to now, taking more care with the life cycle of linens has barely been on the radar.
Better recycling rates are hard to achieve anywhere that has bins full of single-use medical and personal care items which must go straight to landfill or incineration, because of their contamination risk.
Yet minimising textile waste is an easy way to demonstrate improvement – simply because there is so much bad practice out there in ensuring the longevity of the sheets, pillowcases, towels, gowns, scrubs and uniforms that make up a typical wash pile.
The wider public might assume that bedding and other essentials are only binned when they are worn out and threadbare. But every day, in laundry houses serving hospitals and care centres all over the country, staff can be far too quick to condemn items with potentially lots of life left.
How so? Simply because these items are stained – with anything from food to fake tan – or tinged blue-grey beyond an acceptable level. Otherwise, they are still completely serviceable.
The decision to discard seems even more wrong in the light of heightened awareness of the environmental cost of needless cotton and polycotton manufacturing.
It is usually due to a lack of knowledge of options available for reviving tired textiles – and perhaps a disbelief that the costs at stake are significant.
However, times are changing, and smart operators are now becoming more careful with their linens as new and better ways of keeping them in circulation for longer make this increasingly possible.
Very dirty linens – resplendent with spills, splodges or simply 50 shades of grey – are usually a small minority of textiles passing through a commercial laundry. But week in, week out, they mount up to a sizeable volume.
As discussed, commercial laundries that don’t realise stains can be lifted by specialist cleaning services are losing money – and putting themselves at a disadvantage when compared with their competitors as a result.
More laundries are beginning to realise that sending textiles that would otherwise have been condemned for specialist cleaning, and then putting them back into stock, can have significant cost benefits as well as the environmental ones.
Clean versus dye
Systems such as Regenex’s gentle multi-bath technique, successful in reviving 75% to 80% of condemned linens, are now able to lift seemingly indelible stains, without causing additional wear to the fabric.
Alternatively, re-dyeing can be a viable option for tackling textiles that don’t look the way they should. The right specialists on board can rejuvenate, or top up, colour, so that the items can be returned to circulation. The same principle applies for any colour of items – and the costs involved are always lower than buying new.
Likewise, a not-quite-white towel roll used in a dispenser can be dyed blue to continue its lifespan, or towels can be given a darker colour for new uses.
An average laundry spends 10% of its turnover on top-up stock and much of this is unnecessary if we begin to work harder to hang onto linens for longer – with cleverer cleaning or strategic re-colouring.
In a decade’s time, a grey tinge or tomatoey splat will no longer be a valid reason to throw out good linens and our current, wasteful habits will be behind us.
Every single item – be it a set of medical scrubs or a humble pillowcase – that is successfully treated and returned to stock means one less thing to be re-ordered and one less thing destined for landfill.
Regenex is offering a FREE trial of 400 kilos of linen to any new customer. Get in touch via www.regenex.co.uk for more information.