What is the true cost of lost work clothes?

What is the true cost of lost work clothes?


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 exceed 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.

The annual cost of waste in Västra Götaland region is also around EUR 1 million. Throughout the years, the Västra Götaland region has driven the campaign “The Pursuit of Lost Laundry“. The region reported, among other things, that they had to buy whole trailers filled with underpants to replace the loss.

Cost in negative environmental impact

However, the cost of loss should not only be counted in euros and cents. All the textiles that disappear must be replaced with new ones. If we make a simple calculation example based on the Stockholm 2013 statistics, there are about 450,000 articles that disappeared and needed to be replaced by new ones. We can assume the life cycle analysis made on cotton/tencel dress by Sandra Roos, IVL 2012, for TVNO, which shows that:

  • The total environmental impact in manufacturing, including 75 washes, is 8.45 kg CO2 equivalents (CO2 equiv.) per piece, of which 5.34 kg CO2 equiv. are allocated to the manufacturing process of ONE dress.
  • A dress weighs about 340 grams.
  •  450,000 dresses * 340 grams = 153 tons of textiles.
  • 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 you want to pay climate compensation for this, you can charge 30 EUR / ton, which in this case brings a sum of 72 090 EUR for climate compensation.

What kind of textiles vanishes most?

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 these textiles disappear?

According to the SIS (Swedish Standard Institute), textile goods worth millions disappear every year in health care and the Textile Manual states that textiles are mostly lost due to pure overlook or lack of information.

  • Patients leave in the hospital’s clothes (patients who enter after an accident, for example, can not be sent home naked)
  • Blankets are taken, or sent home with the patients, or they disappear through the fire department or taxi (we live in a cold country).
  • Some textiles are accidentally thrown in a waste bin (you would be surprised at how often this happens). The loss can be 400 EUR / bag.
  • Staff store extra work clothes in their cabinets for long periods of time. (All work clothes that have not been washed within 90 days are recorded as loss.)
  • Departments create their own stock of textiles that then are forgotten. (We have heard stories where the textile coordinator during inventory found entire textile stocks that they did not know that they had.)
  • Baby items are taken home, either by mistake, or because parents have an affection for them, such as ”it’s a first garment or first blanket“. Or because the items are simply practical and “free“.

What can we do?

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.

  • Create traceable textiles. This is the most effective way to ensure rational textile stock and minimal loss. On work clothes, the garment should be able to be traced down to the individual level so that it can be known who has the garment “checked out” to ensure it is returned into the rotation.
  • Visualize the cost to create incentives to work on the issue. “What is being measured gets done“, as everyone knows. 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” with clothes for the patient to leave the hospital with so that the hospitals own garment for patients remain where they are needed.
  • Look at the statistics to understand which textiles are missing and why.
  • And last but not least, distribute information to raise awareness about the issue. Healthcare textiles are a material asset worth in total, almost EUR 100 000 000.

/ Anna Hallberg

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