Roberta Innocenti (Assolavaggisti) – Pandemic watershed for the sector: car washes have become strategic for protecting health
Interview with the President of the Association for the province of Pistoia and member of the national presidency
The Covid-19 pandemic was a “watershed” for the car wash sector that has become an integral and strategic part in health protection measures. So said Roberta Innocenti – member of the national presidency of Assolavaggisti Confesercenti and president of the association for the province of Pistoia- which 18 months after the first lockdown explained how the sector is changing in relation to the new health and Covid-19 prevention requirements, as well as the ecological transition.
“We initially encountered some difficulties. Although our Ateco code allowed us to operate, in some areas the police – because of a misinterpretation of the law – lobbied for car washes to be closed and even issued fines in some cases. Assolavaggisti reacted by sending a letter to the various entities in charge and the ministry, requesting verification not only that car washes could remain open but also to obtain recognition from the legislator as a fundamental activity in the fight against Covid,” said Innocenti, retracing the complex days of the first lockdown that had a major impact on the sector that, according to estimates, involves at least 12,000 VAT numbers. Thanks to this recognition, she went on, car washes have become fundamental in the fight against Covid-19 by carrying out sanitization “not only of private cars but also of vehicles used in the front line to transport patients and deliver meals at home, including the vehicles of the civil protection service and law enforcement agencies.”
The pandemic, despite hitting the sector in economic terms, like many others, prompted car washes to develop quality and safety standards that are fundamental for the future evolution of their activities. “We had to draw up Covid-19 protocols for our employees, adopt measures to protect users and understand which sanitation standards to adopt”, she summarized. Specifically, Innocenti highlighted that standards are particularly precise and that the use of ozone alone – a practice that was rather widespread during the pandemic – does not suffice to ensure certified sanitation of the car or vehicle. “The use of ozone is only valid if two other steps are taken: cleaning the car and disinfecting all surfaces with certified medical surgical products (PMC). Only then can sanitization be started using ozone as the third step. Skipping the first two steps means that the third one has no validity,” Innocenti explained. “We launched an information campaign targeting our members in this regard,” she added. “Assolavaggisti grew considerably during the pandemic”, said Innocenti, who pointed out that, thanks to the association’s commitment, people have begun to be understood that only structured car washes “can provide a certain type of certified service”. Roberta Innocenti went on: “Do it yourself washing in garages under condominiums can no longer provide this type of assurance”. “We started talking about decontamination, sanitation, health protection protocols and compliance with standards that certain car washes do not meet. This created a watershed,” she said.
“At the outset, we suffered like everyone else from an economic point of view,” Innocenti said, although also acknowledging that the last six months has seen some growth: “The topic of sanitization carried out in compliance with protocols has brought about investments by companies, such as the purchase of ozone machines. These protocols must be developed and stipulated and become an integral part of the Risk Assessment Document(DVR) of every company. These obligations have involved costs but also some benefits.”
In discussing the problem of “improvised” car washing, which often provide below cost services without respecting environmental regulations, Innocenti points out that “many problems have to be faced”, recalling that Assolavaggisti “has worked for years” in this regard “and plans to work to an even greater extent in coming years”. “We worked extensively in the local area and I must say that many non-compliant car washes have been checked and, in some cases, closed because they did not have even the most basic authorizations,” said the president of Assolavaggisti for the province of Pistoia. “Our objective is to have national legislation that always and wherever envisages Single environmental authorization (Aua) in order to open a car wash. It is no longer acceptable that a wash can be opened with a simple certified notification of start of business (Scia) to the local council as an artisan workshop because this is not the case. Washing produces waste that must be treated through depuration plant and simply cannot be sent to public sewers. All regions must accept their commitments,” said Innocenti.
Precisely by addressing the issue of respect for the environment, the president of Assolavaggisti for the province of Pistoia also highlighted that Prime Minister Mario Draghi has paid great attention to environmental issues: “The National Recovery and Resilience Plan as a whole includes six points, one of which is entirely dedicated to the environment, while the others are also based on a green vision, and car washes must play their part. However, there’s talk about the environment, there’s talk about environmental revaluation, respect for local areas and water protection. Inasmuch, even car washes must do their best and move towards a green vision in the sector, which means: efficient and controlled depuration plant; water recirculation whenever possible and/or in any case reduced use; machinery that ensures lower electricity consumption. This is possible and feasible. Institutions must make commitments to ensure that everything is implemented and respected. This is what we are asked to do on a European scale. This is the time for us to act and get things done.”
Innocenti pointed out that state-of-the-art machinery can enable this ecological transition. “Latest generation portals obviously have much lower energy consumption levels than old machinery and the same can be said pressure washing systems. As for drains, water can be recycled twice with appropriate depuration plant,” she added. The use of new generation machinery and cleaning products with low environmental impact clearly involve higher investments and costs and against this background, it will be necessary to “adjust our tariffs.” “We must all think about moving towards a green future. We cannot imagine being able to manage a car wash in the way it took place 20 years ago. A car wash must be treated just like any other company, with continuous investments. We must ensure value for our work. As long as low-cost car washing continues, it is evident that products with a environmental impact, latest generation machinery, water depuration and disposal of slurry cannot be implemented because it is not feasible for maintain such prices,” Innocenti pointed out.
Support for upgrading in the sector must also take place with appropriate public or European resources, which, however, as Roberta Innocenti points out, are difficult to access or involve cumbersome procedures: “Resources are available but they are very difficult to access. Sometimes either the procedure to access funds is cumbersome or there is a click day procedure that is like playing the lottery. Unstructured companies become ruffled or abandon the project. Our association aims to support all our members even with this type of initiative,” stated the Pistoia provincial president of Assolavaggisti.