While essential, personal protective equipment (PPE) produces a large volume of waste.
Nebraska Medicine has created a practical way to reuse their isolation gowns that reduces this waste. In 2000 when Nebraska Medicine’s laundry facility closed, Nebraska Medicine partnered with Ameritex Laundry Services (a Healthcare Accredited Laundromat) and sent their isolation gowns and other linens to be washed and then reused.
After the gowns are used at the medical center, they are transported to Ameritex laundry. Once they are diligently washed, gowns are stored at a warehouse until they are ordered back to the medical center. On top of the usual cleaning, gowns also are put through an impermeability treatment once a month. As long as the gowns do not endure any tears, they can be reused more than 100 times. When the gowns do get torn, Ameritex Services rags out the linens for reuse. The ragged-out linens are then dropped off to Peerless Wiping Cloths. This company repurposes the linens into wiping cloths and Nebraska Medicine receives a small payment of $0.05 per pound for these recycled linens.
Even with the cost of replacing isolation gowns that are damaged or going missing, the process saves Nebraska Medicine money. Not only can linen gowns be reused over 100 times, but the system does not need to pay for the collection and transportation to a landfill or a landfill fee.
Because Nebraska Medicine is reusing gowns, around 2,000 disposable gowns don’t have to be purchased on a daily basis. During the height of the pandemic, with increased PPE needs, around 10,000 disposable gowns a day didn’t have to be purchased, although due to an increased demand, some new linen gowns were procured. The pandemic created a large demand for isolation gowns with a limited supply, so disposable gowns were as much as 10 times as expensive at times, while linen gowns remained the same price. Being able to reuse many gowns quickly not only saved the system money, but freed up disposable gowns for other health systems to purchase.
Reusing gowns diverts tons of waste from landfills and uses much less energy than what is required to harvest raw materials, manufacture and ship disposable gowns. Not only is this process beneficial for the environment, it creates a structure resilient to disturbances like the COVID-19 pandemic.