Reversing the Disposables Trend (Part 3)


Reusable textiles image
(Photo: Courtesy American Reusable Textile Association)

Nancy Jenkins |

How education is increasing use of reusable surgical textiles

MISSION, Kan. — Since the 1960s, when disposable products first appeared in hospitals, the textile services industry has fought a largely losing battle against disposables for market share. As a result, many healthcare professionals have only known single-use disposable items in the operating room (OR).

However, the current focus on sustainability, combined with education, is starting to make a difference in how healthcare professionals view reusable textiles. For example, several healthcare groups have recommended that member hospitals increase their use of reusable textiles in order to minimize waste and its associated disposal costs. And the textile services industry now has life-cycle analyses and case studies that support reusable textiles as the environmentally preferable choice over single-use disposable items.

The American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) recently conducted its second webinar for Practice Greenhealth on the benefits of reusable surgical textiles. The information from that webinar and other ARTA resources is presented here for the consideration of suppliers and laundry operators.


Quality Assurance — One of the biggest objections to reusable surgical textiles is the belief that they are not as hygienic as disposable items. Stains sometimes don’t come out textiles, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t clean or their performance is lessened. Education is critical in this area.

According to Barb Fordyce, surgical textiles manager, Healthcare Systems Cooperative Laundry (HSCL) in St. Paul, Minn., once clients are aware of quality control measures followed by a laundry, they are more amenable to using surgical gowns, drapes and packs. HSCL offers 40 custom packs assembled in its pack room and sterilized at the client hospital.

Its quality controls process:

• Suter Tester — HSCL keeps a log that records quality testing for every load of surgical textiles. “We use the Suter Tester to test two items from every load (one item with more than 30 washings and one item with less).”

• Sample Test Grid — In addition HSCL has a sample test grid on every surgical gown and drape. Every item is visually inspected and if the quality is sufficient, the inspector marks the grid. Grids typically allow for 50 uses.

• Accreditation and Certification — Healthcare laundry is different from any market segment and requires special handling. Securing accreditation or certification is an important means of verifying that an operation is following the industry’s highest standards for processing healthcare textiles. The Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) and the Textile Rental Services Association (TRSA) offers opportunities to earn such certification.


Healthcare professionals generally have been well trained to use disposable items, from paper wipes to surgical gowns and drapes. For the most part, disposable single-use items are all they have ever known in the OR and many other areas of the hospital.

“Any change is hard for people,” says Ed McCauley, CEO of United Hospital Services in Indianapolis. “But once clients have made the switch to reusable textiles, they are typically happy with the change.”

“Inertia can be a problem,” says Fordyce. “I had a nurse convinced that reusables were the best choice, but she backed out because she didn’t want to do the work the conversion would require. You really need an internal champion on the client side to push for reusables.”

For hospitals serious about sustainable operations, reducing waste and its cost, increasing the use of reusable surgical textiles, packs and garments can offer an effective solution.

While any change in hospital protocol is a challenge, those suppliers and operators willing to provide training, textile management support and hands-on service can succeed in selling reusable surgical textiles to healthcare organizations. And perhaps the industry can begin to reverse the disposable trend of the past several decades.

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.


Latest Podcast

Learn about the challenges and benefits of both processing on site and outsourcing laundry with guest Sam Spence, a senior consultant with TBR Associates, which specializes in consulting services to improve processes, people and company-wide performance.

Want more? Visit the archive »

Digital Edition

Latest Classifieds