Simon Venni, UK&I sales manager at the Professional Division of appliances manufacturer, Miele, looks at how sustainability in hospitality has been impacted by the pandemic with a move back toward ‘disposable’.
2020 and the start of 2021 has undoubtedly been challenging, but throughout the crisis, we’ve seen organisations and individuals meet adversity and uncertainty with such resilience.
From the outbreak of the pandemic, we witnessed an incredible response from care workers, many of whom made the decision to isolate away from their families to keep care home residents and patients safe. And, despite many hospitality businesses having to close for a significant part of the year, many quickly adapted to continue operating with a takeaway service, and when they were allowed to reopen their doors, they embraced all the required measures to be able to welcome customers back safely.
It’s safe to say that businesses have had a huge amount on their plate this year, so inevitably, many of the important issues on the business agenda at the beginning of 2020 have taken a backseat to the safety of employees/residents/customers, and business adaptation and survival. One area we’ve seen impacted is sustainability, with single-use plastics and other materials being widely used to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
While there’s no denying that some single-use plastics have been instrumental in the response to Covid-19, moving forward it’s crucial that we reduce unnecessary use where we can.
We understandably saw demand for single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) soar, and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed on 8th September that more than 3.4 billion items of PPE had been delivered to the health and social care system in England. This, coupled with the incredible healthcare provided by NHS staff, has helped to protect millions of people and save lives.
And, outside of health and social care settings, we’ve seen other single-use materials being widely used to prevent the spread of infection and keep others safe. In April, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) delayed its ban on plastic items such as straws, stirrers and cotton buds to avoid creating ‘additional burden’ to businesses during the pandemic. We saw a brief ban on reusable cups from a handful of businesses, including Starbucks and Great Western Railway to help contain the virus.
In hospitality, many businesses reopened using disposable menus, napkins, and tablecloths to minimise the risk of infection spreading and to offer reassurance for customers. And, for the same reasons, as hairdressers could reopen many opted for disposable towels.
Undoubtedly, disposable single-use PPE is crucial in healthcare settings, and many businesses have simply been taking these measures to operate as safely as possible, but it’s important to make sure the progress on sustainability initiatives made up to this point isn’t completely undone.
We need to consider our approaches moving forward, and where budgets, regulations and safety guidelines allow
Single-use materials, used in business and personal capacities, have inevitably resulted in an increase of waste to landfill, which is damaging to wildlife and the environment. We need to consider our approaches moving forward, and where budgets, regulations and safety guidelines allow, we should again be making decisions and taking steps to reduce our negative impact on the environment.
While it’s incredibly reassuring to see business operators being cautious and taking safety and hygiene so seriously, moving forward there may be alternative approaches we can take that don’t compromise on hygiene or sustainability. In June, over 100 scientists published an open letter insisting that reusable containers are safe to use if basic hygiene is employed.
In fact, the government-published guidance for food businesses on Covid-19 states, ‘plates, cutlery and glasses should be handwashed in hot soapy water or washed with detergent in a dishwasher rated for disinfection’. Furthermore, guidance issued to hospitality businesses by UK Hospitality states in regard to laundry, ‘wash items in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest water setting and dry items completely. There is more control if laundry is carried out in-house or professionally, rather than staff taking it home.’
Safe to use
As current guidance states, many of the items we would normally be reusing again and again are still perfectly safe to use as long as they are cleaned and disinfected effectively. If you decide to invest in or upgrade your existing cleaning appliances, make sure the make and model you choose is capable of meeting the washing and disinfection requirements stated by your industry guidelines, if applicable.
For example, in social care, The Department of Health’s Health Technical Memorandum 01-04 defines that washing should be held at either 71 degrees for at least three minutes, or 65 degrees for at least 10 minutes, for effective thermal decontamination to take place. This, paired with specialist detergent, is essential to achieve the agitation of laundry required to kill infectious diseases.
As current guidance states, many of the items we would normally be reusing again and again are still perfectly safe to use as long as they are cleaned and disinfected effectively.
Although the initial investment in a commercial dishwasher, washing machine or tumble dryer is usually a significant investment for a business, it can save unnecessary expense on single-use items. And, when the lifetime costs are compared to that of a laundry outsourcing arrangement or how much more often a typically lower-cost domestic model would need to be replaced, commercial equipment is usually the better option.
A model with a longer lifecycle also reduces the amount and frequency of contribution to landfill. Businesses can reduce their carbon footprint further by choosing a model that uses minimal water and electricity in its cycles, also resulting in lower utility bills.
While there’s no denying that some single-use plastics have been instrumental in the response to Covid-19, moving forward it’s crucial that we reduce unnecessary use where we can. This is just one part, albeit a significant one, of the action we need to take to protect our planet. The ongoing pandemic is a stark reminder of how closely people, the economy and the environment are inextricably linked.