Tackling COVID-19-related waste in our stores and offices

As our stores and other retail outlets around the world have carefully re-opened after shutting down due to COVID-19 restrictions, the need to protect employees and customers alike has become a top priority. To do this, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has become a necessity—this includes single-use face masks, rubber gloves, plastic visors and beyond.


According to a recent article published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Coronavirus waste has quickly become a new form of pollution, especially as single-use PPE is now winding up in our oceans more and more (source). The WEF cited a study that estimates that in the U.K. alone, if every person used a single-use face mask every day for a year, PPE would create an additional 66,000 tonnes of contaminated waste and 57,000 tonnes of plastic packaging. This waste would end up in landfills and could potentially litter landscapes. Can you fathom the amount of waste we could create—and unintentionally distribute—on a global scale?


And because PPE is considered contaminated after one-time use, it must be disposed of in a specific way that prevents spreading infection or disease. In some cases, this means storing the waste in multiple plastic bags for days before disposing in landfills, or even incinerating the waste—and potentially releasing harmful gases into the air (source).


Being part of the solution
Our people have always been at the heart of our company, and we have been doing the most we can to protect our employees and customers ever since health risks increased due to the novel COVID-19 virus. We are aware that in this way, we are also contributing to the new source of pollution. However, being part of the solution to this problem has been on our agendas, too!


The role of technology in reducing PPE waste
Our headquarters-based procurement team has explored how to efficiently sanitize batches of frames in our stores while reducing waste in the process. Normally, a customer-facing employee would sanitize each pair of frames by hand with soap and water after a customer has tried them on. After our stores re-opened to the public with increased safety measures, we introduced UV-C sanitization boxes to thousands of stores across more than a dozen countries. This rollout will continue through the fall to even more stores, in more countries.


UV-C boxes are medical-grade equipment that can sanitize several pairs of glasses at once using a dose of high-frequency light that lasts just for one minute. Using this method, our store employees can use less water and fewer paper towels or cleaning cloths to do this simple, yet important task.


Based on some simple calculations made by our colleagues at Apollo, our German retailer, we can estimate that using UV-C boxes could save about 35,000 disinfectant cloths per day for the entire brand portfolio in the country. This could equate to 175,000 wipes used per week, or nearly 9 million wipes used per year. Imagine multiplying this across all retailers across the world!


The power of cross-border teamwork in times of crisis
At GrandVision, cross-border teamwork is essential, especially when it comes to sustainability. In recent months, we have been brainstorming with our CSR Ambassadors around the world and have come up with ideas to reduce PPE waste across our stores, manufacturing facilities and offices. We always keep in mind the safety of others, as well as local governmental health regulations.


Our Apollo colleagues came up with some inspiring examples:

  • Employees use reusable/washable masks – either self-made or (preferably) ordered from local manufacturers to avoid long supply chains
  • Plastic protective walls were installed in stores and manufacturing sites to provide necessary distance and protection from each other and customers, and also allowing assembly workers to work without masks for a certain period of time
  • Already introduced the UV-disinfection boxes (see above) in stores to efficiently and effectively disinfect several pairs of frames at once
  • Last, but not least, Apollo colleagues have been producing their own disinfectant according to WHO standards, distributed in reusable containers


Not to mention that in most of our operating companies, as well as GrandVision’s headquarters, we have been applying a more flexible working from home policy for office employees. This initiative not only protects the health of our employees, but also reduces PPE waste and CO2 emissions from commuting.


Sharing is caring!
We understand the waste-reducing practices that we have been following, as well as the need for UV-C sanitizing boxes, are not one-size-fits-all solutions. However, we hope these ideas can serve as inspiration for other businesses that are looking for ways to take realistic, manageable steps to be part of the solution to reducing COVID-19-related waste. We are also continuing to investigate other ways we be more sustainable with respect to the new safety measures in place.


Imagine the impact we could make if more stores and retail outlets established more waste-reducing practices! Let’s make a difference – together.


Image source: Klaus Hausmann, Pixabay