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Performance, Cost Per Use, and Environmental Impact of Single-Use and Reusable Surgical Gowns & Drapes: A Summary

In order to establish a foundation for evaluating single-use and reusable surgical gowns and drapes, The McIlvaine Company—an independent marketing research company—has performed an in-depth study to analyze and compare the key aspects and characteristics of each product. The primary factors examined in this study were:

  • functional efficacy and performance, measuring safety, barrier qualities, and infection prevention
  • cost-per-use
  • eco-efficiency and sustainability
  • physiological issues for doctors and nurses (or comfort of the products)
  • legal and regulatory issues
  • additional issues related to their usage and aspects
In this summary of The McIlvaine Company white paper on Performance, Cost Per Use, and Environmental Impact of Single-Use and Reusable Surgical Gowns & Drapes, the facts are as follows:

  • that the performance element of single-use products makes them competitive with reusable products, and may tilt the scale in favor of single-use products.
  • that single-use products are competitive with reusable products based on the cost-per-use analysis conducted by The McIlvaine company.
  • that the environmental impact of single-use products is lower than for reusable products, contributing largely to the water and heat involved in laundering reusable textiles.
  • that in the arena of safety, single-use products may have an advantage in that reusable products are exposed to contaminated surfaces and fluids, and thus require additional processing in the laundering stage and may deter people from wanting to reuse these garments.
  • that green opportunities exist in equal amounts for both reusable and single-use products, primarily in the facets of waste-to-energy use of disposed items, the use of biological-based (rather than petroleum-based) polymers in the supply chain, and the utilization of carbon credits for offsetting environmental impacts of garment and textile disposal.
  • The study finds favorably for the future of both woven (reusable) and nonwoven (single-use) products, but also finds that the inherent values of both products tend to give single-use products an advantage in cost and in performance. It also finds that in safety and comfort, both are on the same footing, but that there could be a potential advantage to be had for single-use products in the arena of safety due to the highly infectious and contaminated liquids present on many reusable products that are not an issue for single-use products. Additionally, it finds that both have an advantage in the employment of more environmentally friendly processes in all aspects of the production and life cycle of the product.

    The study also examines the legal and regulatory issues involved in disposing of and cleaning of reusable textiles. Some of these laws and regulations include the Clean Air Act, regulations for cotton production, blood borne pathogen rules (OSHA), and waste classifications. For the purposes of this summary, suffice it to say that the regulation of soiled textiles is precise and exacting, and involves both reusable and single-use products in myriad ways that do not necessarily address the performance, cost-per-use, and environmental advantages or disadvantages of woven and nonwoven garments and products. The study finds that single-use products may be the more cost-effective solution in a hospital (or any environment) where barrier protection is paramount, and comfort, environmental costs, and financial costs matter.

    The summary above and additional information from the McIlvaine white paper can be downloaded below (.pdf files require Adobe Acrobat to view):

    McIlvaine White Paper Synopsis