Vive la vie vert

2 October 2019

Penny Wilson takes a look at how France is dealing with environmental issues head on after a ‘green’ surge in the European elections and how this drive is likely to affect textile care operations in the country

France’s Green Party (Europe Écologie Les Verts) romped into third place in May’s European elections amid draconian measures to help save the planet. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, took centre stage, announcing that all diesel-powered cars and trucks will be banned in the capital by the next decade. That spells hefty investment for some in the textile care industry, among them rental laundries which will be forced into electric vehicles, warns global commercial laundry solutions giant, Jensen.


Plastics initiative

Plastics too are under the spotlight. President Emmanuel Macron has promised to recycle 100% of plastics by 2025 – a hefty challenge, given that current recycling rates hover around 20%. Current government proposals include making recycled plastic packaging cheaper than its non-recycled equivalent, a deposit system on plastic bottles and heavy taxes on landfill. All industries will soon be issued with the complete list of banned plastic products. While it is awaiting that list, the textile care industry may also want to keep an eye on the French eco warriors’ war on fashion whose heavy environmental footprint, along with the microplastics making up modern textiles, increasingly hog headlines. Euromonitor reports that the worldwide apparel and footwear market’s expected growth, pegged at around 5% a year through to 2030, will exert “an unprecedented strain on planetary resources”.

Given France’s substantial contribution to luxury fashion brands, a concerned Macron has garnered the support of Francois-Henri Pinault, the CEO of Kering -  parent company of several brands including Saint Laurent - to lead fashion’s effort in helping ocean health and biodiversity. Watch this space.

Then there is the continued phasing out of PERC (perchlorethylene). PERC is classified as a category 3 carcinogen in the EU but while France officially agreed way back in 2012 to completely ban PERC’s use by drycleaners from January 2022, and prohibited Perc’s use in new drycleaning machines from 2013, some industry commentators reckon it may still be predominantly used in an estimated 600 Paris outlets alone.


JET Expo developments

Certainly, the environment topped many agendas at JET Expo – now owned by Messe Frankfurt France - in the Porte de Versailles, Paris, in May. European manufacturers of solvents and laundry detergents – Kreussler, Christeyns, Seitz and Ecolab all reported developing lines of eco-friendly detergents without chlorine bleach or phosphates for wetcleaning and alternatives to Perc for drycleaning. Technology such as CO2, used for technical textiles and making it possible to clean and disinfect at just 31C and 74 bar, grabbed attention, along with ozone boxes now installed at some drycleaners and allowing considerable savings in water, electric and chemical consumption. Says Thomas Zeck, commercial director of Kreussler Textile Care: “Since the use of perchloroetylene in textile cleaning will be completely banned in France from 2022, environmentally friendly alternatives are in high demand – and the wetcleaning system we have invented is, of course an extremely sustainable solution with the use of water as a solvent in combination with the biodegradable special cleaning agents in the Lanadol product range.” He adds drycleaners preferring a classic solvent can investigate Kreussler’s SystemK4.


Entrepreneurs abound

Despite its many challenges, France’s textile care market, estimated at €3 billion annually, is never short of entrepreneurs. Many may take comfort in Macron’s proposed ‘safety net’ which, in the future, could give entrepreneurs state compensation if they’re forced to liquidate their businesses.

Lavoir Moderne is just one example of a young business with big aspirations. Alphadio Olory-Togbé and Pierre-Henri Canonne co-founded the Parisian enterprise in 2014. They are now raising €5 million from private investors, and preparing to coin another €20 million by the end of 2019, with a plan to “revolutionise” the drycleaning market. Lavoir Moderne pledges a more eco-friendly and economical offering than the norm, home delivery in Paris in just 30 minutes, and a fistful of robotics, artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art traceability technologies.

To would-be investors, this may sound an attractive deal. Traditional laundry services, certainly in Paris, tend to be expensive and many demand that their customers drop off and collect. Certainly, it is making accessible what was, until relatively recently, a luxury service.  Its low prices could win the game: €2.50 for a kilo of linen (vs. €7 on average in Paris), or €1.50 for a shirt (vs. €4 on average in Paris), delivery included. Next stop? London and Berlin, say the confident founders.

 A growing army of new breed upstarts in France includes ZipJet and Cleanio, attracted by some shiny statistics. ZipJet estimates the laundry and drycleaning market in France represents a yearly turnover of between E575 million and E628 million.

CINET, the international committee of textile care professionals, tells the story of a completely different innovation in France. Washare is a new company described by company spokesman, Matthew Howells, as “the Uber of Washing”. It pairs up people with washing machines, spare time and a need to earn more money, with those without a washing machine and time, but with cash to splash. Those providing the washing service are described as ‘Cashares’. Customers simply connect with their local Cashares via the app.

France’s larger operators and flexing more muscle include 5àsec (translated to “5 to dry”) which has just closed a deal allowing it to integrate into its group 34 stores owned by Pierre Letourneur, vice-president of the French Federation of Pressings and Blanchisseries (FFPB). The first 5àsec was founded in Marseilles in 1968. Now, the network boasts 1,730 stores in 31 countries and serves 114,000 customers daily - one of the biggest franchise networks in its field.

Meanwhile, French textile care and cleaning giant Elis, employing 50,000 in 440 production sites and service centres across Europe and Latin America, reports revenue for the three months ending March grew by 4.3%. It says client retention in workwear particularly in Germany and the UK has helped bolster its sound financial performance along with small-size acquisitions in Sweden, Denmark, Spain and more recently, Russia.


Growth areas

Industry growth areas include the hotel sector with France remaining the world’s top destination in 2018, according to the French government statistics. Insee, France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, reports that in Q4 2018, the number of overnight stays in tourist accommodation was up by 2.0% compared to the same period in 2017. France welcomed nearly 90 million foreign tourists last year, a new record for the country. The total contribution of travel and tourism represents 9.7% of GDP.

Jensen reports several new plant projects specialising in flatwork coming on stream and “higher demand for quality in the hotel sector with customised articles”. One of its proudest projects is with Elis’ laundry in Aix-les-Bains, a popular spa and tourist town in the Savoy Alps. The Elis Aix-les-Bains laundry processes from 60 to 150 tonnes of linen a week for both hotel and hospitals in two six-day shifts. Jensen’s ergonomic Multi-Sort, first launched in 2016, laid the foundation for a new series product and the Elis operation now sports Jensen’s Futurail sorting bins with all conveyors controlled by its Rail Explorer software. Says Thomas Sautjeau, production manager at Elis Aix-les-Bains: “Working with the new sorting platform is less physical than with other sorting planforms.” He adds screens help improve sorting accuracy.


Hot prospects

Hospitals also offer hot prospects, ever since the ‘Loi de Sante’ (health law) in 2016. This required hospitals to collaborate regionally on healthcare delivery and has translated into the closing of smaller hospital laundries and the opening of larger ones. It has kept Jensen busy: in September, the company will be involved in a cornerless remote feeding project in a Parisian Hospital laundry. In Libourne Public Hospital it has supplied new Uniq tunnel washers in a brand new turnkey project. Jensen also says that Paris Hospital, among others, is equipping all its flatwork with UHF tags. Poitiers Hospital, meanwhile, is testing the benefits of non-ironed textiles, which are simply dried and packed.

Primus Laundry, part of Alliance Laundry Systems, also found its work cut out earlier this year with a design/installation for the Etablissement et Services d’Aide par le Travail (ESAT), which collaborates with the association Les Papillons Blancs de l’Essonne (IDF), and which employs nearly 170 disabled workers in different businesses, including laundries for hotels and nursing homes.

The ESAT renewed its aging fleet with ergonomic equipment and modernised its production process with new barrier washers, all sporting different capacities and enabling the team to take in many different customers at the same time, plus trace-tech monitoring and tracking software. Gas dryers with moisture sensors and large ironers completed the picture. “All praise goes to the Association Les Papillons Blancs de ‘Essonne in charge of educating and inserting disabled people into professional life….” says Primus.


Economy steady

The French economy is steady. Insee, grew 0.3 percent in the three months to March 2019, slowing from an upwardly revised 0.4 percent expansion in the previous period. Exports edged up 0.4 percent (versus 2.0 percent in Q4), while imports grew at a faster 1.4 percent (versus 1.1 percent in Q4).

Year-on-year, the economy expanded 1.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019, the same pace as in the previous three-month period.




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