Sustainable Laundry and Linen Management: Best Practices for the Healthcare Sector

  • 10/04/2024
  • Written by NOE CPC

Linen Losses  

Linen loss refers to the excessive loss, damage, or theft of linen items like bed sheets, towels, drapes, garments and scrubs within healthcare facilities, particularly in the NHS, resulting in several adverse outcomes. 

In 2023, the Textile Services Association found that the NHS loses 4 million pieces of linen per year. Equivalent to 7,600 tonnes of carbon or: 

  • Driving 1,900 cars for 1 year 
  • The energy use of approx. 3,800 households 
  • 5,500 return flights from London to New York 
  • 64,000 return rail journeys from London to Edinburgh 
  • The carbon stored by 152,000 mature trees in the UK over a year. 

This is just the carbon cost of linen that is lost in the day-to-day running of the NHS. 

How does linen become lost?  

Linen loss primarily occurs due to mishandling, such as spills being mopped up with linens and linens being disposed of in waste bins or inappropriately condemned before reaching the laundry for processing. 

To decrease linen loss, it is best practice for NHS organisations to carry out a linen audit with their linen provider to determine where your linen loss is occurring. Suppliers on our Laundry and Linen Total Solutions framework are proactively working with NHS organisations to provide them with solutions on how they can help reduce misuse of linen without impacting standards or patient care. 

One of the suppliers on our framework has worked with an NHS Trust to reduce their linen loss by 13%, which equates to 550,000 pieces of linen returned to the laundry throughout the project. A member of the Estates and Facilities team at the NHS Trust said, “It really is as simple as everyone going back to basics and reviewing their processes if they want to make a difference.” 

Advanced Technologies  

Advanced technologies like RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) can also help overcome linen and textile inventory challenges. RFID tags can be attached to each linen item, allowing for real-time tracking of its location throughout the hospital premises. RFID readers positioned at key points can automatically log when linens are moved, helping to identify any discrepancies or losses.  

Our framework suppliers' investments in RFID technologies are effectively addressing linen inventory challenges and reducing carbon impact. This technology streamlines stock management, saving time previously spent on manual counts and costs associated with replacing misplaced items. Additionally, suppliers within our framework are actively engaged in educational initiatives to raise awareness among end-users and employees, further supporting sustainability efforts. 

Reusable surgical gowns – single-use vs reusable surgical gowns 

30% of the NHS Estate has now implemented the use of reusable surgical gowns, however, 70% still use single-use items. Single-use gowns are one of the most carbon-intensive PPE items, with considerable opportunity to realise both carbon and financial savings through increased uptake of reusable gowns. Research says that reusable gowns not only meet the same protection standards as single-use, but they can also even outperform in key safety test areas when combined with good-practice guidance for wearers. 

With over 70 uses over a single-use disposable gown, the key environmental impact savings that could be achieved with this approach include: 

  • Carbon Footprint reduction of up to 64% 
  • 78% waste reduction 
  • 50% reduction in water usage 
  • 60% reduction in energy consumption. 

This can also assist in lowering waste disposal costs through significant waste output reductions. Reusable gowns may also be recycled or repurposed. 

Suppliers under our Laundry and Linen Total Solutions framework are paving the way for reducing the usage of single-use surgical gowns and PPE products across NHS organisations 

Under our framework, suppliers have been working with an operating theatre which is undertaking a trial of reusable surgical gowns. Initial feedback has been positive, with the Trust acknowledging the benefits they offer and the role the products can play in tackling the high use of disposable items in operating theatres. 

Feedback from the trial has included: “I really like the feel of the gowns,” “Future generations will not understand why we took so long to take such as simple step,” and “Reusable gowns are a no-brainer. When do we start with reusable drapes…?” 

Implementing a combination of these common best practices can greatly improve the tracking and management of linens within NHS trusts, helping to reduce loss, improve efficiency, and ultimately enhance patient care. 

Full case studies and sustainability milestones from our framework suppliers can be found here in our secure fileshare area.  

If you are interested in utilising our Laundry and Linen Total Solutions framework, or have any questions relating to this framework, please contact our NOE CPC Support Desk at 

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