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Study: Reusable PPE Ensures Supply, Best for Environment

ARTA-IAHTM surgical gown life-cycle study published in AORN Journal

MISSION, Kan. — Hospitals scrambling to buy reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) can rest assured a permanent switch to cloth protective attire not only ensures adequate supply, but it is also better for the environment.

A study published in the AORN Journal in March compared the life cycle of reusable versus disposable surgical gowns. Reusable (cloth) surgical gowns are laundered after each use and undergo a quality inspection before being returned to the hospital for use. Hospitals pay up to 50 cents a pound to send disposable surgical gowns to the landfill.

The life cycle assessment (LCA) research was spearheaded by the American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) and the International Association for Healthcare Textile Management (IAHTM) and was conducted by Environmental Clarity LLC.

Disposable and reusable surgical gowns were studied from their inception as raw materials in the earth to manufacture of the coverall product, to use/reuse, then to final end-of-life disposition. The scope and the results emphasize transparent, science-based life cycle analysis.

The study found that when reusable surgical gowns are used, versus disposable alternatives, the environment wins. Choosing reusable surgical gowns results in:

  • 64% reduction in natural resource energy consumption,
  • 66% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (measured as CO2 eq emissions),
  • 87% reduction in total water consumed (blue water),
  • 83% reduction in solid waste generation at healthcare facility (results in reduced landfill costs). End users can count these improvements as a credit toward improving their sustainability programs.

Recovery of lost instruments was also included for disposable gowns, because instruments are often sent to the landfill with disposable drapes, towels, and gowns.

A second end-of-life scenario considered reusable gowns reused in other industries.

Transportation was included within each of the applicable stages of the life cycle.

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