Importance of LCAs: Now, in Future (Part 1)


A visual showing 60 disposable surgical gowns compared to one reusable. (Photo: ARTA)

Nancy Jenkins |

ARTA conducts life cycle assessments on reusables vs. disposables

SHAWNEE MISSION, Kan. — We all know the numbers by heart—in the United States, the healthcare market for reusable textiles is 20% compared to the 80% market share held by single-use disposables. And, there are 50 salespeople representing disposables for each salesperson selling reusable textile products. 

These are depressing statistics by any standard. To add insult to injury, how often have we read research paid for by manufacturers of disposable items—research that touts the superiority of disposable items over reusable counterparts?

The American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) is working with its members to change this situation. With a mission to create greater awareness and appreciation for reusable textiles, ARTA strives to provide its members with data and marketing resources that help make the case for reusable textiles. 

In the past few years, this effort has included conducting several life cycle assessments (LCA) that have each confirmed reusables are the environmentally friendly choice over disposables. Specifically, the raw goods, manufacture, and cleaning of reusable textiles use less water and energy/carbon than the raw goods and manufacture of disposables. In addition, choosing reusables greatly reduces waste stream and its associated costs because a reusable item is worn up to 50 or 75 times, while a disposable item is used once and goes to the landfill or is incinerated.


Several large companies have convinced the last few generations of healthcare professionals that disposables are more convenient, easy to store and more sanitary. They have even made claims that their products are green.

However, within the textile services industry, we know reusable textiles deliver the 3Cs: 

  • COMFORT: The softness of washable textiles is unsurpassed in garments for patients and surgical staff and in bed linen, toweling and other flat goods.
  • COST: When the price of single-use, disposable goods—acquisition, storage and removal—is compared to reusable textiles, serviceable for 60 of washings, reusables are approximately 30% less.
  • CONSERVATION of resources: Carefully engineered medical items made of cloth are used again and again under professional laundering conditions and provide a solution to the worsening problems of water shortages, waste disposal and polluted air from incinerating disposables.


Even though the reusable message of conservation/environmental sustainability is an important one, it’s not a hot-button issue in 2018. But it’s predicted that will change in the future.

According to the OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050. The Consequences of Inaction, by 2050, the Earth’s population is expected to increase from 7 billion to more than 9 billion, and the world economy is projected to nearly quadruple, along with growing demand for energy and natural resources. 

In addition, our waste stream is on target to triple by 2050 and water scarcity will increase, says Andrew Burger in his Nov. 6, 2014, article “The Business of Water Shortages” on Specifically, between now and 2040, the supply of fresh water will not keep pace with demand, unless there is more effective management of water resources. A major international study, the Global Water Security Intelligence Community Assessment, finds that annual global water requirements will reach 6,900 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2030, 40% above current sustainable water supplies.

According to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CPD) 2014 Global Water Report, cited in the article “Waste Production Must Peak This Century” in the Oct. 31, 2013, issue of Nature, on the risk water shortages pose to business, more than 68% of business owners surveyed believe their businesses are vulnerable to water scarcity. 

The CPD survey was sent to 174 of the world’s largest companies and included questions on water usage, exposure to water restrictions and plans to cope. Ninety percent of the respondents said they are integrating water resource management into group-wide business strategies, and 82% are setting goals and targets to reduce water use.

I predict that before 2050, our clients will have come to appreciate the industry’s role as a guardian of water and energy, as well as the eco-nature of our products and service. But we can’t just wait for this to happen. We need to build our case now, for the future.


A life cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life cycle analysis, ecobalance and cradle-to-grave analysis) is a technique to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. 

LCAs can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental concerns by:

  • Compiling an inventory of relevant energy, material inputs and environmental releases.
  • Evaluating the potential impacts associated with identified inputs and releases.
  • Interpreting the results to help make a more informed decision.

LCAs have shown great promise for improving understanding of the wider implications and relationships that must be considered when incorporating environmental concerns into technical decision making. LCAs provide data that enables industry and government to find ways to both increase efficiency and reduce harm to the environment.

Check back Tuesday to read the results of the LCAs.

About the author

Nancy Jenkins

American Reusable Textile Association

Editor, Executive Director

Nancy Jenkins is editor and executive director of ARTA and resides in Lee’s Summit, Mo. She is also the principal of Jenkins Integrated Marketing, which provides marketing communication services to national, regional and local organizations.


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