Choose Reusables: LCA Proves Sustainability

Posted September 22, 2017 at 12:42 pm

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The American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) recently announced the completion of life-cycle research on behalf of the linen, uniform and facility services industry. The study was conducted by Environmental Clarity LLC, Reston, VA, and compared the life cycle of reusable versus disposable isolation gowns, according to a news release.

“The results of the isolation gown LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) support the conclusions from six other reusable/disposable studies that showed reusables provide a significant improvement in energy, environmental footprint, water and energy-associated emissions,” said Michael Overcash, PhD, of Environmental Clarity.

The ARTA study produced results similar to those of a comparable LCA that TRSA published in 2014. In essence, both studies confirm that reusable barrier gowns require less energy, chemical and water resources during and through the end of their useful lives than the disposable variety.

The TRSA study, conducted by PE International, Boston; and Exponent, Washington, DC, is titled Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable vs. Disposable Textiles. This study was panel reviewed and met the requirements of the ISO 14044 standard. As for the findings, the authors commented that, “Reusable isolation gowns have clear environmental benefits compared to the analyzed disposable products, except in the case of ODP (ozone depletion potential). The benefit comes from raw materials weight differences and nonwovens manufacturing.”

Some contrasts between the two studies include a more detailed analysis of transportation effects in the PE International study, as well as the use of “worst case” and “best case” assumptions and limitations in their calculation models. Click here to download this study.

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

The study found that choosing reusable isolation gowns instead of disposable alternatives decreases the environmental footprint by:

  • 28% lower natural resource energy consumption
  • 30% lower greenhouse gas emissions (measured as CO2 eq emissions)
  • 41% lower total water consumed (blue water)
  • 93-99% lower solid waste generation at healthcare facility

In this study, an isolation gown was defined as a single-piece, size extra-large (XL) or one-size-fits-most, long-sleeve, tie-up garment. The functional unit, or basis of comparison, was 1,000 isolation gown uses in a healthcare setting. For the reusable gowns, this was 16.7 new gowns each use for 60 cycles, while for the disposable gowns this was 1,000 new gowns. Two market representative ANSI/AAAMI Level 1 isolation gowns were investigated: a reusable polyester gown and a disposable nonwoven gown. The representative reusable gown weighed 240 g (8.5 oz.) and was composed primarily of woven polyethylene terephthalate (PET) fabric. The representative disposable gown weighed 63 g (2.2 oz.) and was composed primarily of nonwoven spunbond-meltblown-spunbond (SMS) polypropylene fabric.

The study was organized and sponsored by ARTA’s LCA Committee, which contracted with the independent research firm Environmental Clarity. The research team includes Overcash, Eric Vozzola and Evan Griffing. The ARTA LCA Committee members include:

  • Scott Delin, Fashion Seal
  • Duane Houvener, American Dawn
  • Janice Larson, Encompass
  • Robert Long, European Textile Services Association (ETSA)
  • Myles Noel, International Healthcare Association for Textile Management
  • Brendan O’Neill, London Hospital Linen Service and ARTA President
  • Shelley Petrovskis, Lac Mac Ltd.
  • Joseph Ricci, TRSA
  • Dan Sanchez, Medline