Wet Wipes & Waste - How can you prevent the spread of infection without resorting to single-use?

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

Many hotels that we know and work with are genuinely struggling right now to balance the prevention of the spread of infection with the prevention of waste.

Most POSI (Prevention of Spread of Infection) policies champion the use of single-use. Having worked with hotels in various roles since way back in 1998 this is nothing new to us, in fact all of our recommendations ALWAYS include suitable considerations around health, safety and hygiene.

We are however, concerned that encouraging businesses to switch back to single-use will not only significantly increase waste (the negative impacts of which will far outlast this particular pandemic) but that single-use does not necessarily equate to 'hygienic' or the prevention of the spread of infection.

Depending on the virus or type of bacteria, they can live on hard non-porous surfaces / objects for days if we do nothing to remove them - this is the same whether the object is single-use or reusable. Ultimately, preventing the spread of infection depends upon your own standard operating procedures (SOPs) and these will be different for every hotel.

Over the next days we will look at a range of single-use items commonly used in times like this with a view to helping you make the best decision for your business.

Wet Wipes

Unless you really have no other choice, we highly recommend not using single-use wet wipes for cleaning. If you are obliged to use them for whatever reason, ensure that members of staff understand that they should NEVER BE FLUSHED.

There is currently a movement to ban wet wipe products that are described as 'flushable'. Whilst the wet wipe may easily flush down the toilet, once it is in the sewer system with hundreds of thousands of others, they are causing significant problems by forming 'fatbergs' as illustrated above.

Some single use wet wipes are marketed as compostable, but this usually means in an industrial composting facility. Only products certified as suitable for home composting can be disposed of in a home composting bin or with garden waste.

Products that use vague terms such as 'biodegradable' and 'eco-friendly' should be purchased with caution. Biodegradability very much depends on where and how the product is disposed of. Most products do not biodegrade well in marine environments - wet wipes are amongst the most commonly found items of beach litter.

Sadly, the best way to dispose of wet wipes is with general waste. Unless you have a waste to energy plant in your destination they will be landfilled or incinerated.

Reusable Cloths

Reusable cloths obviously minimise waste, and there are a wide range of materials to choose from.

Microfibre cloths are popular with housekeepers for their increased absorption and non-streak cleaning, they can however release microfibres when they are laundered.

To prevent this, wash microfibre cloths in a mesh bag. In addition to minimising the release of tiny plastic pieces into the environment it also prevents the cloths from picking up other fibres from towels for example, meaning they stay effective for longer. Dipose of microfibres collected in the mesh bag with general waste.

If laundry is outsourced, speak with your providers to find out if they use microfibre filters and if not, ask them to do so on your behalf.

Consider cloths made from cotton or from natural microfibres such as bamboo or glass. If you change cloth type, you may also need to change Standard Operating Procedures and/or revise your POSI procedures to ensure that they are being used effectively and hygienically.

Recommendations include having a large stock of reusable cloths so that you can:

  • Switch cloths every 30 minutes if they're being used in public areas.

  • Use a different cloth for different purposes (e.g. cleaning bathrooms and bedroom furniture)

  • Use a different cloth for each guest room.

  • Launder cloths daily, ensuring there is enough stock to replace those that are in the laundry

Ensure that members of staff responsible for cleaning are given refresher training in the POSI procedures.

Make sure they understand the dwell time of sanitisers - some may take up to 10 minutes to kill bacteria and viruses so 'spray and wipe' should be discouraged.

Instead, spray, leave the product to work, and wipe after the dwell time is reached.

Check dilution required for any cleaning products and that automatic dosers are working properly. Most important of all, make sure that staff know how to safely handle cleaning products.

Increase the frequency of sanitising areas of 'high touch' such as:

  • Lift buttons (inside and out), particularly during hours of increased use (e.g. guests using the lift to go for breakfast and dinner)

  • Buffet serving tongs (ideally change these every 10-15 minutes and put them through the dishwasher cycle)

  • Self service hot and cold drinks machines

  • Pin-pads on card payment machines

  • Surfaces of interactive information screens, computers for customer use

  • Reception desks

  • Guest information books

  • Restaurant and drinks menus

  • Sunbeds and mattresses

  • Balcony and stair railings

We will continue to address the balance of waste prevention and illness prevention in subsequent blog posts, check our website regularly for updates.