Virtual Environmental and Humanitarian Adviser Tool – (VEHA Tool) is a tool
to easily integrate environmental considerations in humanitarian response. Field Implementation guidances are useful for the design and execution of humanitarian activities in the field.
The sourcing, provision, transport, distribution, use, and selection of hygiene items are all influenced by environmental factors and all-cause environmental impacts that need to be understood and mitigated. Even the type of hygiene items that affected people and how they use them are both affected by local climate and environment.
Environmental factors such as air pollution or poor water quality may influence the use of hygiene items and may even make specific hygiene items necessary. For example, the lack of adequate water for hygiene actions may require the provision of external sources of water or substitutes such as sanitizer. There are environmental factors affecting the way in which hygiene items are provided, distributed, and ultimately disposed of, e.g. high levels of humidity or rainfall may make it necessary to wrap items in impermeable packaging or tarpaulins. There are also different climatic or environmental factors that might increase the use of hygiene items or accelerate the deterioration of stored hygiene items. Environmental hazards may affect the ability to distribute hygiene items, such as landslides due to slope vegetation stripping, or extreme weather events that impede transport or access.
The specific needs of women, children, the elderly, disabled, minorities, and people living with chronic or terminal illnesses should be considered in the design and selection of environmentally sustainable hygiene items.
Loss of biodiversity and ecosystems
Natural Resource depletion
Impact on wellbeing / mental health
Waste due to the provision of unwanted items, or lack of knowledge on how to use or dispose of certain items.
Water sources and soil can be polluted by the accumulation of waste and leachate from decaying piled wasted items. Also, the accumulation of packaging, containers, and bottles may result in pollution of waters sources and end up in groundwater, soil, rivers, lakes, and the ocean.
The distribution of hygiene items can have negative impacts on the environment if not well planned, or if the needs, preferences, and behaviors of individuals and communities are not appropriately assessed. When distributed items do not match with the cultural preferences of affected communities, items may be unused and may be discarded as waste. In addition, items that are used but not properly disposed of, waste may be burned, or piled in places that have limited capacity to gather, transport, and dispose of that waste appropriately. Piled waste can cause health problems by becoming a site for disease vectors to breed and spread within communities.
Consult communities and individuals on their hygiene practices and hygiene item preferences.
Source hygiene items that affected people want and will use.
Procure items from sustainable sources / materials, locally if the quality is good enough.
Educate people on the appropriate use of hygiene items.
Educate people on the appropriate disposal of hygiene items – re-use, re-purpose, recycle, re-stock, compost or safely dispose.
Undertake careful community and household assessment on hygiene practices and preferences for specific types of hygiene items.
Research local market existing or potential for the provision of those items and consider hygiene item provision through Cash and Voucher Assistance.
Otherwise, source hygiene items that affected people want and will use.
Support or contract suppliers and market traders to provide items from sustainable sources/materials, sourced locally if the quality is good enough.
Educate communities and individuals on the appropriate use of hygiene items.
Educate communities and individuals on the appropriate disposal of hygiene items such as how often an item can be re-used, whether part of the item can be restocked to reduce waste; which items can be re-purposed, recycled, or composted, and how to safely dispose of items at the end of their life to minimise the risk of disease spread.
Elements that can be recycled, repurposed, or resold after initial use should be introduced while understanding the behavior of the people in need and providing them with items they usually use and are comfortable to use, in order to avoid waste of elements due to unused attitudes.
Strategic selection of items for distribution can reduce resource consumption and waste generation. Consider the future need of the items post-crisis, and if multi-functional items are an option.
Investigate the option of introducing refill stations where people can access periodic refill of products that allows for this feature using the same containers delivered from the beginning.
Ensure that communities are sensitized to the need to manage hygiene kit packaging, particularly if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
When identifying and selecting items procure, source items with safe but low amounts of packaging that protects the items from external contaminants while packaging various components of a set as one unit not as individual units.
Search for biodegradable options that can be safely and easily disposed after use, or that are made from sustainable sources or using sustainable processes. However, whilst biodegradable materials reduce the risk of plastic solid waste pollution, the industry for effectively handling and composting these materials is not universally available and may not be cost-effective. In addition, biodegradable materials may not meet the durability standards required for certain types of assistance. In such circumstances, it is often possible to work with suppliers to improve standards and access/distribution.
The procurement and preparation of items can often be re-designed to reduce packaging or to substitute with packaging that is lighter weight or otherwise more environmentally friendly, or reusable. Seek to repurpose items that cannot otherwise be recycled or returned, for example, using bags as plant containers, using disappearing ink if branding is an issue. Reusing and repurposing can both reduce waste and create real value for beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance.
Consider providing reusable containers that allow for a safe refill. Design a recycling plan for items that cannot be reused. Look for opportunities to support recycling as a local livelihood. Consider biodegradable packaging when possible.
Procurement of sustainable hygiene items should be an option. For example, there are types of soaps and detergents that are designed to not affect soil pH or soil or water chemistry when disposed of – most soaps are designed with the assumption that they go into sewage or hygiene items wrapped in biodegradable packaging. In addition, procurement can be prioritized from local small businesses that are trying to produce an environmentally friendly product, where this and the product quality can be verified. This is both prevention and mitigation of environmental damage but could also be viewed as an environmental enhancement by stimulating the market as long as this is also accompanied by efforts to ensure that when the humanitarian response ends, demand for those products continues. This could include supporting marketing and publicity of those initiatives with local communities, facilitating links between those businesses and bigger buyers (especially government), etc.
Adapting hygiene kits based on community preferences can have positive environmental impacts. For example, when Myanmar Red Cross consulted communities on preferences for hygiene items, communities stated that they would prefer to receive metal buckets and fabric dishcloths rather than plastic and paper, so that they could be reused. The organisation spoke to donors and received approval to replace the plastic buckets and paper towels with more durable items. This resulted in less plastic and paper waste, and more durable items for affected communities.
Percentage increase of distributed hygiene items that can be reused, recycled or resold.
Change in the number of people using hygiene items that are sustainably sourced and / or can be reused, recycled or resold.
Number of positive changes made to procurement processes to improve environmental impact.
Prevention of environmental damage
Mitigation of environmental damage
Field and desktop research to understand the needs, preferences and behaviours of people. Costs can increase or decrease in procuring environmentally sustainable and culturally acceptable alternatives. Additional time to research and source environmentally sustainable products (preferably sourced locally if quality is sufficient), and products free of hazardous materials.
Requires coordination with procurement and logistics teams. Can take longer to action changes.