Every year, a typical 400-room hotel generates about two to three metric tons of used linen – bedsheets, pillow cases, towels, table clothes, employee uniforms, and the like. Two to three tons. That’s a lot of linen. For Diversey’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team, it’s also a lot of opportunity.
Linens For Life has a simple but powerful objective: to empower needy people or at-risk families with support from Diversey and its hotel partners. With this program, many families in a community are able to earn a small livelihood by converting linens discarded by hotels into new and useful items that can be sold and hence helping them to earn an income. At the same time, instead of sending these linens to landfills or incinerators, hotels can up-cycle their unwanted linens in a way that makes a real difference, helping people in need such as those who have lost everything in a natural disaster, refugees, women who had been rescued from sex trafficking or domestic abuse situations, among others.
“Linens for Life aims to provide a livelihood to local communities through creative conversions of used linens into items for sale,” said Stefan Phang, the project’s founder.
The people who joined Linens For Life receive basic training on how to sew and use sewing machines donated by Diversey. A local charity is trained to operate the program. Once trained, they can work to give a new lease on life to the linen donated by the hotels. Items created include tote bags and simple clothing, which are then sold to earn a small income for the people who made them.
To date, Diversey has launched more than 80 Linens For Life projects in a total of 33 cities across Asia, Middle East and Africa. Used linens collected by participating hotels are distributed by Diversey to non-governmental organizations and local communities to be reused or recycled. Those projects have provided sustainable livelihoods to approximately 1700 people.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and there was a realization that there were shortages of face masks in many places, Linens For Life was immediately launched to make face masks. The program was simply named Linens For Life Face Masks (L4LFM) program.
The L4LFM program provides free masks, made from discarded (but clean and hygienic) hotel linens, to the poor, the needy, the underserved of society. They are the homeless and living on the streets, they live in rubbish dumps slums, inner city slums, cemeteries or refugee camps. They are thankful to receive free masks for themselves and families. Most of them are daily wage earners, and with lockdowns, they are unable to leave home and work. Dwindling savings, if any. Relying on charity for daily needs. With the small amount of money that they have, they need to choose between buying mask or buying food.
Hotel linens are also among the Top 5 Best Fabric to make reusable and washable face masks, found in a study of 30 materials made into face masks. It found that bed linens are good at filtering out 90% of 1 micron particles i.e. it protects people from bacteria, some viruses and dust.
The L4LFM program has now been launched in 25 cities in 12 countries, and 750,000 face masks had been made and provided to those in need since March 2020.
“I strongly believe that people don’t want charity, they want to work. When we can give them livelihood, they are happy and confident that they can make money and create value. The project is about environmental and social protection, and hygiene as well. That’s why we call it Linens for Life. It’s life and livelihood.”