It’s been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic was announced, and the world has changed forever. Despite the vaccines being rolled out, countries are still struggling to keep contamination numbers down. Cleaning and disinfection have assumed the greater role. The UAE, as a country has been at the forefront when it comes to combating the pandemic and rolling out vaccinations.
Clean Middle East explored how the UAE has seen cleaning and hygiene changed in the past year and the evolution of products and technologies in an exclusive webinar hosting Dr. Naseem Mohammed Rafee, the Director of Health and Safety at Dubai Municipality; Najwa Makhlouf, General Manager at EFS Facilities Services; and Seifeddine Beldi, Country Manager-UAE and Lower Gulf, Fine Solutions and General Manager of Fine Hygienic Holding.
Here is an excerpt.
Current trends in cleaning and hygiene in the region
When we talk about the trends in cleaning and hygiene today, we refer to smart cleaning and robotics. They are the current trend and future of the cleaning industry. Robots are not something that is going to emerge in the future. They are here already. “The growing wedge of cobotics is currently invading all cleaning exhibitions. The industry is abuzz with the technological revolution robots bring along,” says Najwa Makhlouf, General Manager at EFS Facilities Services.
Najwa believes that with the extended stay of the current pandemic, there has been a rising demand to leverage technology and think about new ways of doing things. Building occupants are nowadays more concerned and anxious about the healthy cleaning of their facility and the unreliable chemicals than ever before. We can now see that cleaning as a discipline is very well regarded compared to pre-COVID-19 times. This triggered a big need to reshape existing protocols within the cleaning companies. The objective is to ensure that cleaning companies use adequate tools and sustainable chemicals at the client facilities to ensure end customers that are providing them a clean and safe environment. This time also saw the need to discover creative ways for disinfection services like using robots for healthcare and drones for buildings. There are smart devices coming along as the internet of things becomes an integral part of everyday life. Likewise, sensors being introduced for smart washrooms and to detect the footfall of a building will help cleaning companies to optimize their schedules and better data analytics.
Seifeddine Beldi, Country Manager-UAE and Lower Gulf, Fine Solutions and General Manager of Fine Hygienic Holding, reiterates his opinion about sustainability. “Through extensive study, we figured out that there are four key drivers for the hygiene and cleaning industry and after the pandemic, there are three main axes around which everything revolves - visibility, frequency and the return of sustainability. Earlier, cleaning used to be back of the house whereas today, people are looking for the cleaners and ensuring that their facility is clean. The frequency of cleaning is much higher. Consumers look at it as a sign of assurance. We have to look at these two and then analyze the consumer, who could be a shopper in a mall or a user of public transport, or an employee at the workplace. This consumer gets an assurance that the place he is at is safe (sanitized and disinfected) for him. So I would say more cleaning and visibility of cleaners matter more than ever.
He continues, "During 2020, the supply chain was very challenging, so we’ve seen a little drop in the sustainability of cleaning and hygiene, we’ve seen much more use of chemicals, disposable items, and I believe in 2021, we are seeing the reverse of that. People are really considering their sustainability objects for two reasons - the company’s objectives and regulations to abide by it and more aware consumers. So combining all of that, I’d say the trends are more sustainability, more visibility, and more cleaning. The sustainability part of it has a direct impact on costs. In my opinion, one of the major drivers is that those costs have to be managed for businesses. Coming up with cost-effective solutions is now imperative for the future.”
Dr. Naseem Mohammed Rafee, the Director of Health and Safety at Dubai Municipality, says that the trend nowadays is robotics in disinfection. Robotics were used particularly during the pandemic and during the national sterilization program that happened across the country, especially in Dubai. She also brings in the government’s perspective to the trends in the cleaning and hygiene industry. From the government angle, the Dubai Municipality was working on approving cleaning and hygiene companies. “We saw many companies that were into other businesses emerge with cleaning solutions to combat the pandemic. I remember when last year we started the service of approving the cleaning and disinfection companies, we had around 101 companies that applied on the first day and only 3 of them were approved. Today, we have over 600 companies. That means there are lots of companies that are approved by the Dubai Municipality to work on this,” Dr. Naseem says.
Dr. Naseem also shines a light on a system that has been gaining popularity in the community, customers, and investors - Montaji - a system that has all consumer products registered on it (meaning it complies with all the specifications in place). The Dubai Municipality also has an application that could be downloaded and used by anyone. Montaji application is as easy as scanning a barcode or entering the name of the product to see if it is registered and safe to use. “The whole umbrella that we work on is the biocides, which include detergents, disinfectants, and many other categories. Basically, within the last year, many people didn’t know this is part of the Montaji system. This system also betters the productivity of our inspectors throughout the inspection. "They could simply cross-check using this application,” she adds.
The Dubai Municipality saw a significant increase of about 86% in the number of products that were registered as compared to 2019. As of Feb 2021, they had over 3,000 biocides (sanitizer or disinfectant products) registered in the Montaji system. Over 7,000 products have been assessed and thoroughly evaluated. There are also products that are imported from different countries and during the whole pandemic, the Dubai Municipality inspected around 41,000 consignments and 129 thousand tons. The Dubai Municipality follows international standards as a bar to inspect and evaluate products. They conduct different types of tests on each product. For example, a physical test is done on the labeling of the product itself. Any information or claims that a company puts on the labels needs to be supported by documentary evidence from accredited laboratories. Then there is the chemical testing. It depends on the chemical that is used and the claim that the product is making. Of course, there are certain products (especially business-to-business products) that are not going to be used by common people. They will be used by professionals, like the Dubai Municipality’s workers during the National Sterilization Program.
New equipment and chemicals spanning the market
The bar set by Dubai Municipality in terms of hygiene protocols pushed chemicals and equipment manufacturers to do better. It pushed them to come up with better solutions to new emerging viruses and bacteria. “These protocols pushed manufacturers like us and our partners to think about solutions with higher specs,” says Seifeddine Beldi. He goes on to share how the cleaning industry has witnessed new developments and long-lasting infection prevention products.
So, instead of disinfecting on a daily or hourly basis in places of high footfall (which also leads to higher operational costs and hours and does not guarantee total disinfection), long-lasting infection prevention seems to be the solution of the future. These kinds of solutions have been used on the consumer side for some time now and on the professional side, they are now being introduced.
The products and methods employed at EFS were also approved by the Dubai Municipality. EFS has introduced a BioClean service as a new vertical within the cleaning services just to address the cleaning and hygiene issues amid COVID-19. Najwa also voices her opinion about probiotic cleaners. “Probiotic cleaners are very much like probiotics supplements we all keep hearing about. They use a unique combination of fermented bacteria and some essential oils. Ultimately, they create a compound known as bio detergents which break down dirt and glands. That’s what makes probiotic cleaners helpful. It’s important to know that they might not kill all bacteria but they provide a safe and healthy environment to our clients,” she says.
The chemicals being used in EFS are lab tested. So there is healthcare validation to them. EFS is also using fogging machines to disinfect. The hygiene levels on surfaces are monitored before and after cleaning just to make sure that the cleaning is effective. Dubai Municipality always follows international standards when it comes to registering products with new technologies. “Whenever a new product comes, we ensure it comes under the scope of biocide. As an example, certain products claim long-lasting disinfection. The way or method of a product that is working on the surface is not the product itself but the type of isolator that is used. So we first make sure whether the product is under the category of biocide or not. If a product has been manufactured in a way that it’s just talking about the isolator and not cleaning, hygiene or disinfection, it may not be categorized as a biocide and may not be registered by the Dubai Municipality. However, we do support new products that are validated by an accredited laboratory or those that pass the testing of our own laboratory,” says Dr. Naseem.
The pandemic has seen many interesting new technologies and chemical solutions emerge in the markets. The new trends such as long-term infection prevention, biocides, etc promise a safe future. However, the role of regulatory authorities remains essential in keeping a check on the efficacy of these solutions.
This is the excerpt of our recent webinar, The Evolution of Cleaning & Hygiene. Find the video of the full webinar here.