QUEBEC CITY, Quebec, Canada – During what was reported to be the American Reusable Textile Association’s (ARTA) largest education conference in its history, two researchers shared findings that demonstrate a cradle-to-grave advantage for reusable healthcare textiles when compared to single-use disposables.
More than 130 attendees, including those from the Netherlands, South Africa and New Zealand, gathered here earlier this summer for the association’s first-ever Green Summit.
The University of Minnesota’s A.J. Van den Berghe presented life-cycle analysis (LCA) research, but began his session by defining life-cycle assessment and providing an overview of the process used by his university’s Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) in evaluating the human and environmental impacts of reusable surgical gowns vs. a single-use disposable gown.
While acknowledging the limitations of any LCA (results are dependent on data quality and availability, software used, geographic differences, etc.), Van den Berghe shared that, in every category except issues related to water usage, the reusable trumped the disposable by an average of 50%.
He also elaborated on a case study conducted by the university’s Fairview Hospital in 2009. It showed that reusable surgical gowns produce one-sixth the waste of disposables, and cost less to use. Reusables saved Fairview $360,000 in one year, and provided more than 20% in savings per adjusted patient day, Van den Berghe says.
Dr. Mike Overcash from Wichita State University presented some preliminary research findings that also gave the cradle-to-grave advantage to reusables. He is scheduled to present an update at the Textile Rental Services Association’s (TRSA) Healthcare Conference in two weeks, and ARTA says it will post his final research findings on its website when available.
Water usage is textile care’s greatest challenge, the studies show, but it should be noted that neither took into account that the majority of laundries reuse and pretreat water before returning it to their publicly owned treatment works (POTW). “Indeed, the majority of the water that laundries use is pass-through or green-loop water,” says Nancy Jenkins, ARTA’s executive director.
The industry continues to improve the quality of wastewater and energy/resource usage through such programs as TRSA’s Laundry Environmental Stewardship Program (LaundryESP), she adds.
The need to secure LCA data is critical in helping the industry make a case for its clients to use or increase the use of reusable textiles, ARTA says.
“While ‘green’ has become a tagline used to market everything from toothpaste to credit cards, there are solid market indicators that show ‘Going Green’ is more than a trend,” says ARTA President Steve Tinker, of Gurtler Industries.
Major companies such as Wal-Mart are starting to require suppliers to share their focus of running operations as green as possible, Tinker says, and it’s been predicted that all products will carry a “green” label, similar to the nutritional labels of food products, within five to six years.