A conversation at the Textile Services Association conference between Sarah Lancaster, owner of Total Laundry, Ruth Mitchell logistics consultant and LCN editor Kathy Bowry was the inspiration for the 2018 LCN Round Table on single use plastics. We had heard a presentation citing some really excellent instances of recycling by suppliers in other industries, prompting us to ask: “What can this industry do to tackle its problem of single use plastics and their disposal?”

Drums and bottles are happily delivered by suppliers, but in many cases not taken away by them when empty, leaving the operator to add to swelling landfill sites, and also to bear the cost of disposal, perhaps the biggest bugbear for retail drycleaners and smaller laundry operations. However, rigid plastics, which are difficult to compact, are just the tip of a growing ‘plasticberg’ that also includes polythene wrap and garment bags. So, what to do about it?


Ken Cupitt, Guild of Cleaners & Launderers – council chair

Phillip Kalli, Ideal Manufacturing – managing director

Sarah Lancaster, Total Laundry – managing director

Colin Oakley, Laundry Efficiency – managing director

Adrian Redgate, National Drycleaners – managing director

Paul Woodhead, Telford Laundry – managing director

Dr Philip Wright, Textile Services Association (TSA) – CEO (at time of the meeting)

Ruth Mitchell (Apologies for absence)



Why can’t they collect and re-use containers?

Because smaller drums are often delivered by courier, it is not cost effective to send a vehicle to collect from individual premises. Some come from overseas and those suppliers are definitely not interested in retrieval missions. Smaller operators (mostly) have no room to store empties so they end up going in the bin (like household waste). Chemicals suppliers delivering to large premises will take back big drums over 20 litres and often deliverin bulk tankers so chemicals can be pumped into the operators’ tanks, so not such a big problem in this sector.

However, as Sarah Lancaster pointed out, not all laundries are large operations. “Lots of laundries are small independent concerns or OPL using 20 litre, even 5 litre bottles, so what do we do with these?” Small operations may have their supplies delivered by a courier along with other varied deliveries in the area so would be needing to dispose of the plastics as and when they are used. “UK manufacturers might be encouraged to take returns but some chemicals come from overseas…perhaps a distributor network might work.”


Avoiding landfills, finding alternatives

Commercial vehicles, including small vans, are not allowed at municipal dumps so there is cost involved for small businesses in disposing of plastics. Could this restriction be lifted? Or, could councils perhaps take a leaf from wholesaler Booker which has bins for packaging waste at its outlets so customers can dispose of it free? Might this be adopted for High Street businesses and smaller industrial sites and include plastics as well as cardboard?

Ken Cupitt said: “Local authorities and the Government can help here by providing regional disposal points for plastic waste having identified that the world has a plastics waste problem it is no longer acceptable that any kind of plastic should be disposed of in mixed waste. If a few local granulators are taking in used plastic containers then a national map of similar type businesses would be a very welcome asset for the industry. If they also take in used polythene garment covers that would provide an additional bonus.”

Paul Woodhead said:“One man’s waste is another man’s gold. We are ISO 14001 accredited.  We collect 25, 5 and 1 litre drums in a cage in the car park – we are lucky as we have the space unlike smaller high street operations – and when full take it to the granulator. And it doesn’t have to be clean. No charge from them and we don’t pay them. We searched the market and found one on our doorstep. There must be others.”

Answering a query from Dr Philip Wright, Phillip Kalli explained that Ideal does offer a returnable drum service for bulk detergents. “We always encourage bulk supply – it’s better value for the customer and significantly reduces the amount of packaging” BUT suppliers (not just Ideal) do not offer pick-up and re-use of smaller drums (5L, 10L, 15L, 20L, 25L) currently (although he suggested that the Ideal team is looking into how they might be able to introduce a service like this). Meanwhile, Ideal has made it company policy to use recycled/reconditioned pallets. “We always re-use IBCs (Intermediate Bulk Containers) and use reconditioned plastic drums from an approved supplier, wherever possible. Having undergone a major review of our warehouse despatch area in 2016, we now use the minimum amount of pallet wrap and continue to review plastic waste as part of our ISO 14001 environmental management system.”

Dr Philip Wright asked: “If a business is using 5 litres drums would you take that back from an operator with, say, a turnover of £1 million?” Phillip Kalli’s response was that it wasn’t so much about the turnover of a laundry – but more about storage space… logistics and demand.  “The 20L drums we have washed out and re-used for certain customers (although not standard) – with all things considered can end up costing as much, if not more than buying new. However, we recognise that there is a serious problem with disposable plastic, and not just on the high street –  and we want to be able to do more to help resolve it.”



Do we need more communication? What are they doing?

LCN approached a variety of waste disposal companies but none were willing to join the panel or were unavailable on the day. Offering their own personal experience local to their businesses, members of the panel found that the waste disposal companies seem to have different agendas for different reasons (for example, more modern facilities are able to deal with more types of waste while older ones are not geared up for this).

Waste companies should inform on what they can do and liaise with suppliers to ensure only recyclable plastics are used for packaging product. There was some confusion over whether containers need to be ‘clean’ before return – will companies take containers that had contained bleach or perchlorethylene?

Adrian Redgate commented: “While a waste disposal company may claim that all waste at one plant is recycled, down the road it is a different story. For example, the Nottingham City Council incinerator recycles its waste to heat community buildings. Meanwhile, in a neighbouring authority the same rubbish simply goes to landfill. However, (jabbing at his laptop screen) I have just found a local granulator that makes all sorts of products from waste plastic.” Colin Oakley commented: “There are so many different plastics. Is the plastic we use now recyclable more than once? We could create hubs among users.”



Should launderers and drycleaners shoulder the cost of disposal or should they be rewarded for being eco-friendly?

Perhaps a voucher scheme might work where operators are rewarded with tax breaks when they take waste for recycling, suggested Adrian Redgate.

Referring to a previous point made by Colin Oakley, Dr Philip Wright commented: “Yes, there are so many different types of plastic and we need to look at what is recyclable, how to collect and how to get it back into re-use. The Government is now looking at whether to tax plastics. The Treasury is consulting on a new tax for single use plastics – TSA argued for incentives rather than taxes, but it is likely there will be some form of tax on single-use plastics, although we are arguing for essential use exemptions.”

Adrian Redgate pondered: “Wouldn’t it make sense for a certificate to be issued by waste companies and that they collude with this. It could be pro-active – yes we are using single use plastics BUT we are doing our best to put it back into re-use.” He asked the panel: “Does every business have to register with a tip? Wouldn’t it make sense to allow businesses to take their waste to where it can be processed? But then there are people who will abuse any system…..”

But as Sarah Lanacaster chips in ”and without complicated admin. We don’t need it. Most operators are already chief cooks and bottlewashers without more admin”.

Philip Wright spoke of TSA member Berendsen which he said is very keen to reduce plastics use. “Elis plants use minimal plastic wrapping. If UK customers did not demand plastic wrapping, as many do, there would be greater opportunity to invest in alternatives, such as alternative cage designs.”

Sarah Lancaster reported “I don’t give plastic garment bags, but obviously customers don’t want their stuff to get wet and I am now putting everything in paper.”  Sarah Lancaster added that regular users are supplied with their own re-usable plastic bags – but ad hoc users still need a way of protecting their clean items. “People are so used to plastic wrappings. What really drives me mad is that I recently ordered loads of clothes online and all arrived in separate garment bags.” She ruled out shallow cardboard bags as too expensive in a cut-throat market. However, both Phillip Kalli and Paul Woodhead thought there was a place for paper and card to be seen as a value-added service for those customers and end users who care about the environment and are prepared to pay a bit more.

As a British chemical manufacturer and supplier, Phillip Kalli said that Ideal are currently researching the possibility of introducing rHDPE (recycled high density polythene) drums. He added, however, that this would increase the cost of drums, and asked whether the industry would accept this as a positive change – or an unwelcome extra cost? Suppliers cannot carry the increase in price on their own.



What is the solution? What are companies doing?

There are some obvious ways to accomplish change, agreed the panel. Reduce plastic garment bags, and plastic wrap for laundry linen. Encourage more use of cages/barrows. Explore possibility of shower proof paper wrapping. Return to laundry baskets and paper-based cases possibly? Providing customers with re-usable garment bags – but this would only work for regulars. Not ad hoc customers. Could suppliers make more use of bag-in-box? However, Ken Cupitt was definite: “Bag in box is not a solution because it creates two kinds of waste – paper and plastic, and is not reusable. Even returnable plastic containers present small businesses with a storage problem.” But Phillip Kalli disagreed saying the cardboard is recyclable, the plastic liner uses considerably less plastic and takes up considerably less space.

Colin Oakley asked whether it would be possible go the powder chemicals route? “What is the point, anyway, in transporting water round the nation (liquid chemicals)?” he asked. (“We do that anyway. We’ve been banging the drum about our eco low temperature fully built powder to replace the need for excessive liquid additions for many years now” riposted Phillip Kalli). “Why not adopt new technologies using fewer chemicals, ie an ozone system which cuts down chemicals use and thus the plastic containers to hold them.” (Oakley’s company Laundry Efficiency has pioneered a new ozone laundry solution which is currently being tested in various UK laundries. LCN will report on this later this year).

On using recycled plastic containers, Phillip Kalli said: “The problem lies in generating the consumer demand for us to be able to order the quantities of rHDPE required – so that the cost isn’t prohibitive for Ideal’s customers. However, we will be switching all 5L drums to rHDPE imminently, and we are in the process of reviewing all of our packaging – to
offer the most sustainable solutions we can – at this time. Believe me, I am working on this – and we are also recommending rHDPE to our own label customers and anyone who will listen!

“However, the problem of introducing a circular supply system that ensures all drums are reused and recycled is way more difficult. We are thinking hard about what we can do
on-site and with our third-party waste providers, over and above what we do for the largest of our customers whom we supply in 600L and 1000L returnable IBCs.”

Adrian Redgate announced his intent of researching granulation as a solution following a quick interrogation online which turned up one not far from his premises.. He commented that there are many more discoverable online.



Ken Cupitt warned: “If the Government gets involved with taxes and rules it will be in an effort to make money not to solve the problem. Our best practical first stage help is to identify regional businesses who will accept waste containers for recycling and pass this on to every laundry and drycleaning business in the country.”  The panel also believes that meaningful dialogue with waste disposal companies must be instigated.

The panel also expressed concern that if the textile care industry doesn’t get on top of this itself, the Government will almost certainly get involved and impose taxes/rules so it is in the industry’s own interests as well as the planet’s to get this sorted. To this end the panel suggests setting up an industry-wide national campaign to tackle reduction of single use plastics waste.

An initial steering group from the round table panel met in January 2019to follow up on specific points raised in the discussions. Follow its progress in LCN.

• Please register interest in signing up for the industry-wide campaign to wage war on single use plastics by contacting conor.diggin@compelo.com

Keep checking the LCN website for more information