Why we are doing this

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Talking rubbish

A conversation at the Textile Services Association conference two years ago between Sarah Lancaster, owner of Total

Laundry, Ruth Mitchell logistics consultant and LCN editor Kathy Bowry  was the inspiration for an LCN Round Table on single use plastics. Delegates had heard a presentation citing some really excellent instances of recycling by suppliers in other industries, prompting the trio to ask: “What can this industry do to tackle its problem of single use plastics and their disposal?” 

The creation of the Sustainability in Textile Care Committee (STCC) was the result. Now the committee has launched a campaign to help operators from all sectors and disciplines reduce dependence on single use plastics. We have also launched the STCC Knowledge Network on this site where signed up members can share their own tips and knowedge and pick up information from others in the industry. It is very easy to sign up to the scheme by clicking on this link.

When you have signed up we will send you a link to download the STCC Charter which you can then display on your premises, underlining your commitment to stemming the flood of single use plastic, along with the STCC logo which can be used on emails and other stationery. It all helps to get the message across that the textile care industry – including your business – takes environmental issues seriously and is acting accordingly.

Take action now

Many businesses have told us that customers have signalled their wish to do their bit and expect their launderers and drycleaners to help them do it. And there is always this aspect to consider as Philip Wright, then CEO of the Textile Services Association, told the original Round Table: “We need to look at what is recyclable, how to collect and how to get it back into re-use. The Government is now looking at whether to tax plastics. The Treasury is consulting on a new tax for single use plastics – TSA argued for incentives rather than taxes, but it is likely there will be some form of tax on single use plastics, although we are arguing for essential use exemptions.”

Over the past two years, since that inital meeting, the committee has met to discuss the best way forward and realised early on that demonising all plastic products in general was not the way forward. It quickly became obvious that single use plastic is the real villain of the piece as well as years of custom and practice by both operators and their customers that has made it seem almost impossible to do without it. However, attitudes are changing and hotels are increasingly requesting their linen rental operators not to wrap bales in polywrap.

With dry- and wetcleaning, though, there is still the habit of providing polywrap coverings to ‘finish’ as part of the service. An option is to provide customers with reusable bags or source them in paper or a plant-based biodegradable plastic wrap or cover.

Unfortunately, research by the committee found that some wraps that claim biodegradeability dont actually achieve ‘meltdown’for five years or more. At Ken Cupitt’s suggestion we decided that wrapping that biodegrades in 12 months or fewer are probably the ones to be looking at. 

Biodegradeablewrap of this type, however, should not be left on clothes when transported home as the breakdown of the material could begin when garments are hanging in a wardrobe or in storage and have detrimental effects on the fabric.

Suppliers’ responsibility?

Why can’t they collect and re-use containers?

Because smaller drums are often delivered by courier, it is not cost effective to send a vehicle to collect from individual premises. Some come from overseas and those suppliers are definitely not interested in retrieval missions. Smaller operators (mostly) have no room to store empties so they end up going in the bin (like household waste). Chemicals suppliers delivering to large premises will take back big drums over 20 litres and often deliverin bulk tankers so chemicals can be pumped into the operators’ tanks, so not such a big problem in this sector.

However, as Sarah Lancaster pointed out, not all laundries are large operations. “Lots of laundries are small independent concerns or OPL using 20 litre, even 5 litre bottles, so what do we do with these?” Small operations may have their supplies delivered by a courier along with other varied deliveries in the area so would be needing to dispose of the plastics as and when they are used. “UK manufacturers might be encouraged to take returns but some chemicals come from overseas…perhaps a distributor network might work.” 

The cost of it all

Perhaps a voucher scheme might work where operators are rewarded with tax breaks when they take waste for recycling, suggests Adrian Redgate. “Wouldn’t it make sense for a certificate to be issued by waste companies and that they collude with this. It could be pro-active – yes we are using single use plastics BUT we are doing our best to put it back into re-use.”

But as Sarah Lanacaster chips in ”and without complicated admin. We don’t need it. Most operators are already chief cooks and bottlewashers without more admin”.

The way forward

Sarah Lanacaster says: "I don’t give plastic garment bags, but obviously customers don’t want their stuff to get wet and I am now putting everything in paper.”  She adds that regular users are supplied with their own re-usable plastic bags – but ad hoc users still need a way of protecting their clean items.


“People are so used to plastic wrappings. What really drives me mad is that I recently ordered loads of clothes online and all arrived in separate garment bags.” She ruled out shallow cardboard bags as too expensive in a cut-throat market. However, both Phillip Kalli and Paul Woodhead of Telford Laundry thought there was a place for paper and card to be seen as a value-added service for those customers and end users who care about the environment and are prepared to pay a bit more.

As a British chemical manufacturer and supplier, Phillip Kalli says that Ideal is currently researching the possibility of introducing rHDPE (recycled high density polythene) drums. He added, however, that this would increase the cost of drums, and asked whether the industry would accept this as a positive change – or an unwelcome extra cost? Suppliers cannot carry the increase in price on their own, he says. 

© 2019 Sustainability in Textile Care Committee (STCC) designed by Laundry and Cleaning News

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