Environmental considerations in the selection of isolation gowns: A life cycle assessment of reusable and disposable alternatives

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Abstract

Background:

Isolation gowns serve a critical role in infection control by protecting healthcare workers, visitors, and patients from the transfer of microorganisms and body fluids. The decision of whether to use a reusable or disposable garment system is a selection process based on factors including sustainability, barrier effectiveness, cost, and comfort. Environmental sustainability is increasingly being used in the decision-making process. Life cycle assessment is the most comprehensive and widely used tool used to evaluate environmental performance.

Methods:

The environmental impacts of market-representative reusable and disposable isolation gown systems were compared using standard life cycle assessment procedures. The basis of comparison was 1,000 isolation gown uses in a healthcare setting. The scope included the manufacture, use, and end-of-life stages of the gown systems.

Results:

At the healthcare facility, compared to the disposable gown system, the reusable gown system showed a 28% reduction in energy consumption, a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 41% reduction in blue water consumption, and a 93% reduction in solid waste generation.

Conclusions:

Selecting reusable garment systems may result in significant environmental benefits compared to selecting disposable garment systems. By selecting reusable isolation gowns, healthcare facilities can add these quantitative benefits directly to their sustainability scorecards.

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