|By Kanana Katharangsiporn, Bangkok Post, Thailand|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 2, 2004 - Disposable diapers, eating utensils and gloves have been around for years. But is the world ready for throw-away pillowcases?
Richard Genming Lu, managing director of Integra Pacific Technologies, believes that his product's time has come.
While those soft white pillows in hospitals or hotels may look clean, they could be harbouring a shocking array of disease pathogens left there by previous users.
"The pillow case covers the pillow, which in turn could be contaminated with dirt, stains and unpleasant smells. The pillowcase is clean but the pillow inside it is not," he said.
Integra Pacific, an importer of health-care products, recently began importing hygienic and disposable pillowcases under the Prefer brand, produced in Singapore. The product is widely used by major private and government hospitals in the city state.
Mr Lu said the disposable pillowcase was invented in 2000 by a Singaporean scientist. In the course of his extensive travels, he eventually became fed up with filthy, disease-carrying pillows, he said.
Conventional pillowcases used by hospitals and hotels, which are generally made of cotton for comfort and durability, are repeatedly rewashed and reused. In the course of their lengthy lifespan, conventional pillowcases might result in some germs penetrating the pillowcase and finding shelter within the pillow itself, which is almost never washed.
This leaves the next user of the pillow at risk of contracting an illness, even though the pillowcase may be changed daily.
For better hygiene, the company's disposable pillowcase has three layers -- two of very soft plastic sheeting and one of cloth-like tissue paper, which make it feel soft and comfortable to the touch.
If bought in bulk, Prefer pillowcases cost less than 10 baht each, said Mr Lu.
"The pillowcase costs only 10 baht. It's not much for the hospital or hotel, considering that they get about 3,000 baht or more per night from their patients or guests," said Mr Lu.
The conventional hospital pillowcase, which costs 40 baht, is good for about a year and a half before it must be replaced. Its hotel counterpart, which costs about 100 baht, lasts no more than a year.
"Don't compare the cost. Consider the hygienic benefits," he said.
Mr Lu expects that his disposable pillowcases will one day become as commonplace in hospitals as surgical gloves and masks.
The company's pillowcases offer savings on laundry, ironing, storage and labour costs. There's also no need to keep extra stock on hand for each pillow turnaround, he said.
Currently, Thailand has 1,392 hospitals, 473 private and 919 government-run, with a total of 133,746 beds.
With its products now being tested at some private hospitals, the company expects that its pillowcases will be in use at all hospitals within the next two years and at all hotels in three years.
The company also hopes to penetrate the spa and massage market in the future, once it starts producing a greater variety of sizes. Currently, the firm makes pillowcases to match one standard size. However, it will accept tailored sizes for any order of at least 10,000 pieces, he said.
For the retail market, the pillowcases could be used as an alternative for home use or for travel, with a price of around 15 baht each. The company is in talks with retailers to put its pillowcases on store shelves.
Integra Pacific plans to set up a factory in Thailand by the end of 2005. A machine with a production capacity of 200,000 pieces per day costs about 40 million baht, he said.
"Once we have a factory here, costs will be lower," said Mr Lu, adding that his future plans include the production of disposable bed sheets.
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