Every year, millions of euros worth of textiles and work clothes disappear in Swedish health care facilities. These millions could be used instead to benefit other areas of health care. In addition, when these textiles disappear from the system, new textiles have to be produced which also becomes a cost – to our environment. The worst environmental impact from textile services is the manufacturing of new textiles.
Important to make the costs visible
If you search online for “loss in healthcare”, your results will mostly be about food. As far as food waste are concerned, there are lots of current statistics, articles and action plans for how to address the question of loss. If you search instead for “loss of textiles in the health care industry”, you will find some information. But most of the content turns out to be articles and statistics from 10 years ago. Why is that, you might ask? Well, the simple reason is that several regions and municipalities have “solved” the problem by putting a clause in their contract, including an agreed upon cost of textile loss, and thus made the issue “invisible”.
That’s how it looks in many places today. Despite the fact that the Sveriges Tvätteriförbund (Swedish Textile Rental Association) believes that a key element in responsible textile management is to actively work to minimize waste. In order to enable this, it is important that costs are visible, so that there is a clear financial incentive to prevent loss.
Costs exceeds 1 million euros per year
If we take a look at Sweden’s two largest regions – Stockholm and Västra Götaland, we see that there are many millions involved. For the sake of justice, we will use official figures available online. These show that the loss of clothing and textiles in Stockholm in 2013 was 12%, and the estimated annual cost to the region was over EUR 1 million annually.
However, the costof lossshould not only be counted in euros and cents. All the textilesthatdisappear must be replacedwith new ones. If we make a simple calculationexamplebased on the Stockholm 2013 statistics, thereareabout 450,000 articlesthatdisappeared and needed to be replaced by new ones. We can assume the lifecycleanalysismade on cotton/tencel dress by Sandra Roos, IVL 2012, for TVNO, which shows that:
The total environmentalimpact in manufacturing,including 75 washes, is 8.45 kg CO2 equivalents (CO2 equiv.) per piece, ofwhich 5.34 kg CO2 equiv.areallocatedto the manufacturing process of ONE dress.
450,000 items * 5.34 kg CO2 equiv. = 2 403 tonnes CO2 equiv.
= The negative environmental impact of manufacturing replacement items that disappeared only within Stockholm County Council for one year will be as much as the total CO2 emissions of 218 Swedish people in one year. (A median Swedish person generates about 11 tonnes of CO2 equiv. per year).
If youwant to pay climatecompensation for this, youcan charge30 EUR / ton, which in thiscase brings a sumof 72 090 EUR for climatecompensation.
What kind oftextilesvanishmost?
Figures from Västra Götaland Region Hospital gives us an understanding of which textiles disappear most frequently. Primary are underwear and baby items. Next come t-shirts, sweat pants and blankets.
Why do thesetextilesdisappear?
According to the SIS (Swedish Standard Institute), textilegoods worth millions disappeareveryyear in healthcare and the Textile Manual statesthattextilesaremostlylostdue to pure overlook or lack of information.
Patients leave in the hospital’sclothes (patients whoenterafter an accident, for example, can not be sent homenaked)
Blanketsare taken, or sent homewith the patients, or theydisappear through the firedepartment or taxi (we live in a cold country).
Sometextilesareaccidentallythrown in a waste bin (you would besurprised at howoftenthishappens). The losscan be 400 EUR / bag.
Staff storeextra workclothes in theircabinetsfor long periods oftime. (All workclothesthathave not beenwashedwithin 90 daysarerecorded as loss.)
Departmentscreate theirownstockoftextilesthat then areforgotten. (Wehaveheardstorieswhere the textilecoordinatorduringinventory found entiretextile stocks thattheydid not knowthattheyhad.)
Baby itemsare taken home, either by mistake, or becauseparentshave an affectionfor them, suchas ”it’s afirstgarmentorfirstblanket“. Or because the itemsaresimply practical and “free“.
Textiles that disappear will bring an unnecessary additional cost. Lost items must be replaced, which in turn means increased costs and higher prices. All waste can not be eliminated, but with a focused approach for both customers and the laundry, this can be minimized.
Createtraceabletextiles.This is themosteffectivewayto ensurerationaltextilestock and minimalloss. On work clothes, the garmentshouldbe able to be traced down to the individuallevel so that it can be knownwho has the garment “checkedout” to ensure it is returned to rotation.
Visualize the costto createincentives to work on the issue. “What is beingmeasured getsdone“, as everyoneknows. Settling for a deal in a contract, creates uncertainty about the cost. This risks reducing the service, as a supplier has to raise the price in order to cover a disguised cost.
Make sure there is a complete “home pack”withclothes for the patient to leave the hospital with, so that the hospitals own garment for patients remainwheretheyareneeded.
Look at the statistics to understand whichtextilesaremissing and why.
And last but not least, distributeinformation to raiseawarenessabout the issue. Healthcare textilesare a material asset worth in total, almost EUR 100 000 000.