As the healthcare industry grapples with ongoing shortages of disposable personal protective equipment, makers of reusable options are positioning themselves for a comeback.

“Reusable PPE items can be sanitized and used between 80 to 100 times vs. only one time for a disposable item,” said David Potack, president of Unitex, a healthcare linen service serving New York. “Due to the shortage of disposable items we have significantly accelerated the turn times to get reusable items back to the healthcare facilities we serve. Reusable PPE items that can be quickly hygienically cleaned, processed and put back in a hospital’s inventory are a force multiplier in a crisis and are changing how people think about reusable PPE products now and in the future.” 

Textile and healthcare companies are stepping in response to shortages of one-time use products.

“Many of our U.S. customers are now manufacturing personal protective equipment, and we’re right alongside them, supplying the medical-grade, protective textiles they need,” said Halsey M. Cook, president and CEO of Milliken & Company.

Milliken’s BioSmart antimicrobial technology is used for scrubs, lab coats and hospital privacy curtains and can be cleaned with bleach.

Jeremy Fogel, vice president of Medline’s textiles division, said his company is increasing its manufacturing capacity for reusable isolation gowns, patient gowns and scrubs.

“Over the last several years, there has been a continued shift from reusable isolation gowns to disposable ones,” he said. “Due to the current crisis, (healthcare facilities) should consider implementing a more diversified supply chain strategy in the future by moving to a hybrid program that uses a combination of disposable and reusable isolation gowns.”

In a recent briefing on COVID-19, Vice President Mike Pence asked whether it is feasible to return to reusable healthcare clothing that can be laundered and reused. TRSA, an association representing the linen and uniform industry, argues the answer is yes.

“We applaud the administration’s recognition of reusable products as a more sustainable option than disposables,” said Joseph Ricci, TRSA president & CEO. “The current pandemic and the sudden need for huge volumes of safety equipment makes the case that reusable items should be a major part of the nation’s stockpile and supply chain.”

According to a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, a life cycle analysis shows the environmental benefits of reusable versus disposable isolation gowns, including:

·        28% reduction in natural resource energy consumption

·        30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions

·        41% reduction in water consumption (specifically, blue water, which is water used and not returned to the source)

·        93% reduction in solid waste generation.