WOPCOM Blog: Hygiene Threats Are Business Opportunities, by Geert Böttger

Megatrend Hygiene 

Safeguarding  hygiene is a rising, long-term trend, based on rising expectations of people towards a healthy and safe environment and structural, man-made hygiene challenges. That provides manifold opportunities for textile services to develop sustainable businesses.

First of all we need to clarify the term „HYGIENE“ and it`s health policy dimension. We understand HYGIENE as a preventive set of measures  to maintain or improve health of individuals and groups. The aim of hygiene is to prevent infections. Thus maintaining or improving hygiene has not only an individual dimension, but also an important health policy dimension.

Recent Trends Challenging Hygiene
There are a number of recent trends, which facilitate infections. Most of them are rooted in general trends of modern societies. They will persist and work as growth drivers for textile services:

  1. Increasing urbanisation – more than 50 % of the world population are living in cities, and the concentration will increase. Very often the infrastructure of cities cannot keep up with the growth of people and their hygiene needs. UN estimates that roughly 1 billion people are living in slums worldwide with deficiencies in hygiene conditions. That is more than 10 % of world population. Also large refugee camps often have severe hygiene problems.
  2. High mobility – in former times travelling was much more difficult and more time consuming than today. The spread of infections was curbed by low and slow mobility. With the constantly increasing tourism and increasing air traffic, infection risks and infection speed has multiplied.
  3. Men and animal are getting closer – the majority of infections and epidemics is coming from animals. As mankind is spreading more and more, many people are getting closer to animals
  4. Industrialisation of farming – large herds in small spaces increase the risk of infection. Use of antibiotics led to resistant incubators, which cause additional infection risks in the food chain.
  5. Rise of temperatures – rising temperatures as a part of climate change, allows a more effective spread of mosquitos, one of the most important species transferring infections.
  6. Longer life – People are getting older, and more vulnerable towards infections, because the immune system is getting weaker
  7. More hospital acquired infections – in many countries, hospitals and homes for the elderly suffer under hospital acquired infections. To a large degree this happens because of bacteria, which are meanwhile resistant against antibiotics.

Role for textile services
These trends challenging hygiene linger into the field of textile care in the following markets, where they enlarge business opportunities:

  1. hospitals: flat linen, workwear, medical textiles like surgery drapes
  2. care homes: flat linen, workwear, private wear of care home residents
  3. food and beverage production and distribution  „from farm to fork“
  4. pharmaceutical production and distribution
  5. cosmetical production and distribution
  6. hospitality: bed- and bath textiles and workwear, kitchen textiles
  7. restaurants: table linen, kitchen textiles, workwear
  8. catering: table linen, workwear, kitchen textiles
  9. washrooms: hand washing and room hygiene

Specialized textile services are ideal to serve in these sensible fields of interest, because they can insure on an industrial level, that required hygiene criteria are met constantly. On premises laundries or private laundering of contaminated workwear incorporate higher risks for individuals and groups, because they are less specialized and trained in the treatment of potentially infectious textiles.

Certificates Qualify
The special qualification of textile service companies is often visible in terms of certificates, which these laundries receive after audits. In fact, if these certificates have penetrated the market, they are kind of organising the supply, because companies without a certificate for hospital textile care, have no chance to tender for hospital textiles.

Hohenstein as one of the world leading certifying institutes audits specialized textile care productions for hospitals, for food, and for elderly homes according to German RAL 992 standards. However, this is a quite specific approach, which led to establish a European based certificate according to EN 14065.

These certificates need to be in line with some policy guidelines, identifying critical areas and parameters to prevent hygiene problems. An example are the guidelines of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin for German. RKI  also includes the list of those washing procedures, which have the RKI permission to be used with hospital textiles.

Dynamics in the Hygiene Market
Development in the hygiene markets are driven by several factors, especially in terms of new hygiene threats, new regulations,  improvements in textile car technology and improvements in the textiles used. But the most driving force is the competition between textile service suppliers among themselves. This competition ensures that innovation in material or processes will be applied to outpace competitors at least temporarily.

Current lines of competition are:

  • workwear with improved functionality for example relative to micro climate control
  • workwear with attention to ergonomic and style
  • textiles which have anti-bacterial functions
  • automated sorting to avoid that textile care workers need to sort contaminated textiles manually
  • low temperature washing processes
  • digitalization to improve data generation, data evaluation and collaboration within the textile care chain
  • RFID controlled processes, which allow for many important economic information, but also for hygiene information like: how often is the workwear used before returning to the launderer
  • Robots: the incorporation of robots in the production process, should reduce hygiene risks in production and distribution. However, it is unclear yet, how and how quickly robots will change the hygiene challenges in the long run.

In a time and planning horizon of 5 to 10 years, the hygiene markets will see more demand, and more differentiated demand.

More about hygiene as a market can be found  in the WOPCOM-article „Trend to Hygiene offers new market opportunities“.

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