Use of reusable PPE ensures supply and is good for the environment, according to a life cycle study by an independent research company Environmental Clarity. The study concluded that reusable surgical gowns provide a significant reduction in energy, water, and greenhouse gas emissions.

A shift to reusable gowns also reduces landfill waste by 83 per cent. The study published in the AORN Journal 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. The study was organised by ARTA’s LCA Committee. 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 emphasise 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 per cent reduction in natural resource energy consumption, 66 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (measured as carbon dioxide emissions), 87 per cent reduction in total water consumed (blue water), and 83 per cent 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 programmes. 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.