From Waste to Warmth: Alsco's Pioneering Partnership to Create Healthy Homes

The housing crisis in New Zealand is not a recent revelation; it has been widely acknowledged for some time. However, addressing it requires more than a single straightforward solution. In June 2022, Stats NZ found that 23.7% of all households had an issue with dampness or mould in the past year. Kiwi’s all over the country are living in cold and damp conditions resulting in approximately 28,000 children ending up in hospital each year with respiratory conditions. This issue is affecting children’s ability to attend school, as well as adult’s ability to maintain employment. Not only is this happening in our homes, it’s happening because of our homes.

The Healthy Homes Initiative (HHI) was established in 2013 as part of the rheumatic fever prevention programme and provided a framework to start tackling the issue of cold, damp homes, and increase the number of children growing up in warm, dry, healthy homes. The core element of success in this initiative is partnerships; partnerships with the community, organisations, and whānau/families, working together to better the living situation for our next generation and prevent housing-related hospitalisations.

In 2017, Carol Fisher, a Healthy Homes Initiative worker in the Lakes region started approaching organisations in the hospitality sector enquiring about beds, bedding, and linen for whānau/families the Healthy Homes Initiative was visiting. The Healthy Homes Initiative in the Bay of Plenty and Lakes region is delivered by Sustainability Options. This is when Alsco Uniforms and Sustainability Options first crossed paths. The Healthy Homes Initiative, and what it was trying to achieve, was a great fit for Alsco who were looking for alternatives to landfill for linen that was removed from circulation when it no longer met commercial standards but was still in a good and useable condition. The relationship grew from there and word began to spread of this win-win situation. The partnership grew to a national scale, helping the Healthy Homes Initiative in all regions with sheets, pillowcases, and whatever else Alsco could create a second lease of life for.

Enter Pat Munro. Pat is a passionate volunteer who had worked in Alsco for 37 years before retirement 7 years ago. Amongst many accomplishments, Pat was involved in the creation and evolution of the Alsco Managed First Aid kit service. Pat particularly disliked the wastage of products that were still in perfect working condition, but not suitable for commercial First Aid kits due to the “expiry date”. After all, when does a bandage expire! Pat’s passion means she never really retired, she stayed on with Alsco as a volunteer, with a focus on saving useful products from landfill.

When Pat connected with the Healthy Homes Initiative and the work Sustainability Options was doing, she was thrilled to see we were reaching whānau/families in need. It was important that we wouldn’t be storing donations in big warehouses just collecting dust or selling them in an op shop. She appreciated our relational journey with whānau/families and our focus on education and behaviour changes around creating healthier homes. Many whānau/families we journey with live in rural communities that don’t have a doctor’s clinic or pharmacy, so being able to provide their home with a First Aid kit can be pivotal for the general health of these whānau/families.

Our values aligned and Alsco were happy to include us in their ambassadorial program to receive Pat’s handmade repurposed First Aid kits. Alsco didn’t stop there. They wanted to ensure that these First Aid kits were going into the right hands. Alsco works closely with Peter Baker Transport to provide free delivery to the various communities throughout Aotearoa so these products have the maximum impact possible. Since Pat started the Alsco Ambassadorial Programme, they have gifted over 47,000 sheets, 17,000 pillowcases, and over 10,000 First Aid kits to worthy charitable causes.

A pivotal success in the partnership between Sustainability Options and Alsco is the ingenuity we share. As well as reusing these wonderful products, we also consider different ways these products can add value to whānau/families. An example of this thinking has seen Alsco sheets sent to our partner curtain banks who use them to add an extra layer on donated curtains, making the curtains going into whānau/families' homes significantly more effective at keeping the heat in. This ensures sustainability in Alsco’s products and works as a great example of successful collaboration toward a circular economy. Alsco’s continued support of regional providers and the national Healthy Homes Initiative is a leading example of utilising what we already have, together, to find more sustainable solutions for our communities.

The saying goes: “It takes a village to raise a child.” That translates to: “It takes a village of support, resources, and compassion to provide a safe, and healthy environment for children to be given the security they need to develop and thrive”. The idea is that no parents or caregivers are expected to raise their children alone, especially those whānau/families who are raising the next generation with inequitable access to opportunities.

Sustainability Options is an altruistic business that visits thousands of homes each year in the Bay of Plenty region. Alsco is a wonderful partner of ours who has enhanced the Healthy Homes Initiative, the work that we do and has allowed us to provide our families with extra love and care. We journey with whānau/families with the knowledge that we have a village alongside us to collectively improve the health of the homes kiwis are living in.