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Smart thinking makes reuse a reality for laundry sector

A pilot scheme in the UK has shown how commercial linen and workwear that would otherwise be sent to landfill or become rag material can be cleaned and reused for its original purpose.

Two years of research and development, and a outlay of £500 000 (EUR 557 000), followed an idea in late 2016 by David Midgley, Paul Hamilton and Matthew Whitehead, founders of Bradford-headquartered Regenex, part of the Bulmer & Lumb textile dyeing group.

Boosting sustainability

Seventy per cent of a cotton bed sheet’s carbon footprint is said to come from the harvesting, manufacturing, packaging and transporting of the product before it has been used. The Regenex trio knew that if they could extend the life of such linen it would boost the sustainability of the industry.

As an example, this market reportedly processes almost 750 000 tonnes of hotel linen and towels, plus workwear garments, and linen for the healthcare sector, per annum. Some estimates say that up to 50% of hotel linen is returned unclean and cannot be reused.

For the pilot, Regenex incorporated new techniques together with sophisticated chemistry to process 300 tonnes of unwanted material, all of which would have otherwise been ragged or landfilled. Nearly three-quarters was successfully reclaimed and returned to commercial laundries to continue its useful economic life.

The company says the average net cost saving of this reclaimed linen and workwear is 35% when compared to the cost of buying each item as new. This figure is close to 80% for chefs’ clothing. The pilot has now become a commercial operation employing 12 people with the capacity to handle at least 15 tonnes of linen per week.

Fresh pair of eyes

Regenex managing director David Midgley said this success was part of the industry’s desire to be more sustainable. ‘Continuous batch washing systems have made great headway in the reduction of energy usage, for example, but the effectiveness of this approach is limited when it comes to removing difficult stains ranging from self-tan, concrete marks to mildew. We’ve therefore come into the industry with a fresh pair of eyes, and hope that by challenging the status quo we can complement the efforts of the continuous batch washers – enabling the UK to “love its linen for longer”.’

Midgley added: ‘We’ve also comfortably processed 40 000 napkins to date. This is just one of many statistics we’re proud to boast from our pilot project, so I’m incredibly excited to see what 2019 will bring.’

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