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Causes Week 2017: Old hotel linen gets new lease of life - with seniors' help

Company partners NTUC Health to turn discarded sheets, curtains into usable items like tote bags

Toh Wen Li on 09 Dec 2017

The Straits Times


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Several years ago, Mr Stefan Phang noticed that the luxury hotels which used his company's services were throwing away tonnes of good quality linen every month.


"It's a very wasteful industry," said Mr Phang, whose firm supplies hotels with cleaning chemicals and machines.


"The hotels' standards are very high and there is a lot of waste. A five-star hotel with 400 rooms could throw away 2.5 to 3 tonnes of linen every year. Some places throw away linen every six months."


Mr Phang, sustainability director at Diversey, saw an opportunity for his company to do some good.


Since 2011, Diversey has collected from hotels every year about 25 tonnes of linen - the equivalent of 16,000 queen-size bedsheets - for disaster relief and livelihood generation here and in the region.


For instance, it converts the linen into bags, stretchers and privacy screens for people in disaster zones - such as in Bali after the Mount Agung volcano erupted last month.


In July, Diversey shifted its gaze homeward, partnering with NTUC Health in an initiative where seniors convert old linen into decorative and practical items.


About 60 seniors from seven NTUC Health Silver Circle senior care centres in Singapore have taken part in Linens For Life so far, creating items ranging from tote bags to stuffed owls.


Each senior spends some 10 hours every week on the linen as part of their daycare activities. The linen includes bedsheets, curtains and staff uniforms from Crowne Plaza Changi Airport, Raffles Hotel, Shangri-La Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa and Hotel Jen Orchardgateway.


Ms Wendy Lim, NTUC Health's assistant manager for community engagement and partnership development, said the project has helped to improve the seniors' physical coordination and attention span.


While the handicrafts are sometimes exhibited or used in the hotels that contributed the linen, there are no plans to sell them yet. The initiative will be extended to all Silver Circle centres next year, she added.


When The Straits Times visited the Jurong West senior care centre last week, seniors were making Christmas stockings out of linen from Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.


There was a brisk assembly line. Some cut pieces of red fabric to size, while others used sewing machines to stitch them into the shape of Christmas stockings. Others helped to sew on the ribbons.


Children from My First Skool pre-school nearby added the finishing touches by sticking decorations onto the cloth.


The Shangri-La Hotel had donated 40 boxes - about 1.6 tonnes - of linen. These were from hotel rooms, food and beverage outlets and staff uniforms, and would otherwise have been sent for recycling, a spokesman said.


Come Christmas, 500 of these stockings will be hung in the guest rooms of the same hotel.


Retired housewife Tang Hong, 67, who used to make clothes for herself and her children, was one of those who helped stitch pieces of red fabric together.


"Young people these days are very wasteful; they can't sew and mend their own clothes," she said. " It's a shame. After they have worn it (for a while), they don't want it any more."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.