From bed linen to patient gowns to lab coats to surgical items, textiles are everywhere in the healthcare industry and are an essential aspect to providing quality healthcare. Additionally, textiles present a huge opportunity to assess and potentially improve the environmental impacts of linen management.
According to the 2005 Comparative Operating Revenues and Expense Profile for the Healthcare Textile Maintenance Industry, hospitals with more than 300 beds use between 21 and 22 pounds of textiles per patient day. This equates to more than 2 million pounds of laundry for a typical 300-bed hospital. Moreover, for those hospitals and healthcare facilities that are using disposable products, that's a tremendous amount of waste destined for the landfill. Sometimes, contaminated disposables must be treated as regulated medical waste, and added cost and environmental impact.
As the volume indicates, textile goods—both linen and disposable—have a significant environmental and fiscal impact on healthcare organizations. Administrators looking to reduce the amount of waste generated by their facilities, improve their environmental footprint, and strengthen financial sustainability should closely examine how its uses and processes textiles and when it decides to use disposable products.
Environmental Impact of Using Linen
Reusable healthcare textiles environmental impact considerations:
- Materials: Are you buying, or renting, "environmentally preferable" products when available?
- Water: How much water does it take to wash a pound of linen?
- Fuel & Electricity: How much natural gas, oil, and electricity does it take to process linen?
- Chemicals: What chemicals are being used to launder your linen? Are there safer alternatives?
Environmental Impact of Using Disposables
Disposable products used as an alternative to textile goods also have an impact on the environment:
- Material: Is the material used to manufacture the disposable product made of recycled materials?
- Water: How much water does it take to manufacture the disposable product?
- Fuel & Electricity: How much natural gas, oil and electricity does it take to manufacture and transport the disposable product to your door?
- Chemicals: What types and volume of chemicals are used in the manufacturing process?
- Waste: How much solid waste and how much regulated medical waste does the disposable product produce when it is thrown away?
Fiscal Impact of Linen and Disposable Textile Use
The choices administrators make regarding linen and disposable products use will affect the organization's bottom line. Consider these costs:
On-Premise Laundry: If you operate an on-premise laundry, are you accounting for all of the costs necessary to run that facility, including all labor, benefit, water, energy and merchandise costs?
Storage Space: How much space in the facility is reserved for storing reusable and disposable products? Can that space be reduced and used for revenue generation activities either by improving control of textile inventory or reducing the amount of disposable products in use?
Outsourcing: If you are operating an on-premise laundry, what savings would you realize by outsourcing and converting the laundry to revenue-generation space?
Disposal of Solid Waste/Hazardous Waste: How much does it cost per ton to remove disposable products as solid, hazardous, and medical waste?
Managing Linen Services and Disposables
Managers can use this section of the website to compare the impacts of using reusalbe linens and disposable products in their operations. This site is divided into three main sections, each containing resources to help healthcare facilities improve its environmental footprint and fiscal responsibilities:
Reusables vs. Disposables
This section provides comparisons of linen and disposable products. It illustrates the true environmental and fiscal cost of using disposable products.
Improving Efficiency in Healthcare Laundries
Material in this section helps operators determine if their healthcare laundry is using water, energy and chemicals efficiently, and provides tips and processes to enhance efficiency. It also addresses how to properly care and use textiles in hospitals to prevent loss.
Outsourcing Linen Services
This area provides materials to compare the cost and environmental impact of processing linen in-house versus outsourcing, plus it also provides look at the textile services industry and its environmental record.
This resource was developed by H2E and the Textile Rental Services Association of America (TRSA). For more information about TRSA, visit Laundry Environmental Stewardship Program website. For more information about Practice Greenhealth, visit https://practicegreenhealth.org.