Hygiene and Sustainability: How to make both work?
— 17 experts shared their view
Just when it seemed as if single-use plastics were slowly becoming a thing of the past, COVID-19 hit the industry. The second half of 2019 had seen more and more industry leaders making public pledges to abandon a product group that had become the infamous representative of an old and immoral, linear economy.
A few months later, the former sustainability arch-enemy is experiencing a massive comeback as a hygiene hero. COVID-19 and the fear of future pandemics are radically challenging recent approaches to product circularity/re-use by imposing enhanced hygienic standards. Keeping a strong position against single-use items might impose dramatic acquisition costs and operational distress on businesses slowly recovering from their liquidity breakdown.
Whilst pondering the reputational risk of violating hygiene law on the one side and diminished sustainability efforts on the other, the former is likely to turn up trumps.
The battle for sterility might be won by detergents containing ingredients unlikely to biodegrade in wastewater. Laundry services might cause more emissions due to an average increase of the washing temperature.
Where lies the sweet spot between hygiene rule compliance and sustainability? Must there be a trade-off? Are there Best Practices to share?
Senior Research Fellow in Sustainability at Hotelschool The Hague
I remember the first time I came across the word “oxymoron" in an article by Weick and Westley.
“Organizing and learning are essentially antithetical processes, which means the phrase 'organizational learning' qualifies as an oxymoron. To learn is to disorganize and increase variety. To organize is to forget and reduce variety..” (Weick and Westley, 1999, p. 190).
Are 'circular hygiene measures against COVID-19' also an oxymoron? I don't think so. The so-called R9-strategy on circularity can still be applied, even in this time where additional hygiene measures are needed for safety and hoteliers want to make sure their guests trust the hygiene measure.
To regain this trust perhaps more than before 'single-use items' will be used, but the choice which item to use can still be designed with these - in a decrease of preference - principles of the circularity:
- Smart design and use;
- Reuse products and parts:
- Recycle and recover.
Hoteliers do not need to order a large volume of plastic cups, but can go for biodegradable coffee cups: so to use the most circular alternative without jeopardizing the safety of your guest.
It remains essential to make sure that hoteliers - in cooperation with all stakeholders, e.g. suppliers and staff members - have insights in all impacts on the triple bottom line (including safety!) when choosing 'circular hygiene measures' that help them prevent infections with COVID-19!
Stay safe and continue to strive for the highest -feasible- form of circularity