LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENT OF SURGICAL GOWNS
Industrial laundering of surgical clothing proves its environmental
Research recently carried out on behalf of E.T.S.A. (European Textile
Services Association) by a highly respected, independent Life Cycle
Assessment practitioner, dk-Teknik Energy & Environment in Denmark,
has shown that industrial laundering is better for the environment
than using disposable surgical clothing.
In 2003 an LCA was prepared in Sweden for the purchasing organisation Westma
by CIT Ekologik AB, independently of E.T.S.A. The LCA was carried out for
reusable and single-use sterilized packed surgical gowns for wet surgical
operations fulfilling standard SS 876 00 05. The new study illustrates – similar
to the E.T.S.A. study – that in a life cycle perspective a textile rental
solution has the least environmental impacts for most of the impacts categories
as global warming, acidification and euthophication (nutrient enrichment). See
summary in English on
http://www.ekologik.cit.chalmers.se/news.htm and the full
study in Swedish on
Research followed ISO 14040 standards for Life Cycle Assessment
The research examined the environmental impacts during the life cycle
of surgical gowns in several environmental impact categories, including
energy consumption, global warming, acidification (of water and soil),
eutrofication (nutrient discharges to water) and post-consumer waste.
Five different types of standard surgical gown tested
- A 50%/50% cotton/polyester
mix with a fluorocarbon finish
- A 100% polyester (microfibre)
with a fluorocarbon finish
- A laminate of polyester
incorporating a polyurethane or Gore-Tex® membrane. The research
analysed the impact from the production of polyurethane, while
washing and drying was related to Gore-Tex® (due to data availability).
made from pulp/polyester with fluorocarbon finish
- Laminate of pulp/polyester
Best and worst case scenarios compared for each gown
The best case scenarios show that, with one exception, reusable gowns
have lower environmental impacts than disposable gowns in the categories
measured. The exception is the 50%/50% cotton/polyester mix which
uses more water over its life cycle than any of the others.
In the worst case scenarios, reusable gowns still perform better than
disposables, but the differences are reduced. Once again, the exception
is cotton/polyester which also does poorly on global warming potential.
The clear environmental winner in this research is Gown Number 2,
the 100% polyester (microfibre) despite its fluorocarbon finish. Reusable
gowns also clearly show lower impacts than disposables in most impact
categories, even when comparing the worst case for reusables with
the best case for disposables.
Reusable surgical textiles show clear advantage
While the research did not examine the impacts on human health or
the impacts of chemicals on local ecosystems, there are steps that
laundries can take in reducing these. Overall, the advantages of the
use of reusable surgical textiles is clear, and E.T.S.A members can
offer considerable environmental benefits throughout Europe.
Copyright © 2002, E.T.S.A.
European Textile Services Association. All rights reserved.