“Reusable cleanroom coveralls are the responsible choice”

Reusable cleanroom coveralls not only cost less than their disposable counterparts, a recently published study confirms they are the most sustainable option. Jerry Martin, Prudential Overall Supply, comments

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Cleanroom coveralls play a critical role for facilities in the bioprocessing, life sciences and semiconductor market sectors. A life cycle analysis (LCA) on cleanroom coveralls recently published by the PDA Journal proves that by choosing reusable coveralls, facilities can add to their sustainability scorecards in areas of lower energy, improved carbon footprint, reduced water consumption and landfill.

With revisions to the USP 797 (sterile preparations) and implantation of USP 800 (handling of hazardous drugs in healthcare settings), cleanroom coveralls are expanding in use to meet sterility and chemical control guidelines. New demand for cleanroom coveralls comes from a variety of compounding facilities and many hospital pharmacies. Based on the findings of the Cleanroom Coverall LCA study, which was funded by the American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA), these markets can achieve the desired product and patient protection and meet sustainability goals.

An LCA is the principal tool used to quantify sustainability scorecards and environmental improvement of processes, products, chemicals, services, or materials. An LCA is used to compare two or more products by quantifying the energy, mass efficiency, and emissions of each to determine what sustainability credits occur when the best alternative is chosen.

The LCA of cleanroom coveralls compared reusable and disposable items on the full life cycle basis from fossil resources and ores in the earth through product use in a cleanroom and the final end-of-life (EOL) outcome for each. Size extra-large (XL) reusable and disposable coveralls were compared.

The reusable coverall weighed 370 g and was composed primarily of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) woven fabric. The disposable coverall weighed 158 g and was composed primarily of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) nonwoven, spun-bonded fabric. Both coveralls meet cleanroom ISO Class 1-5 standards and are single-piece, long-sleeve, and zip-up garments. These items did not include a hood, gloves, or booties.

It was found that in the cleanroom market about 40% of both disposable and reusable coveralls are delivered sterilised. Because the disposable manufacturing processes cannot deliver garments sufficiently clean to meet cleanroom standards, both disposable and reusable coveralls are subject to the same laundry process and are sterilised by gamma irradiation (included in the study).

Laundry wastewater is treated by standard aerobic municipal processes (also included in the study) based on the measured soil load.

At EOL, disposable coveralls are landfilled, but only the user soil burden from use degrades (included in this study), as the garments are inert polymers.

Reusable coveralls are typically donated into secondary markets if feasible, but no credit is given for this practice in the study.

The comparative basis for this LCA was 1,000 coverall uses in an ISO level 1-5 cleanroom. For disposable coveralls, this was 1,000 coveralls, of which 400 were sterilised before use. For reusable coveralls, the representative usage for each coverall is 60 cycles, if only laundered, and 40 cycles if laundered and sterilised. Thus, the reuse pattern indicates that 20 new reusable coveralls are needed to deliver 1,000 cleanroom uses.

This LCA demonstrated several direct benefits for cleanroom facilities. In terms of energy reduction, selecting reusable coveralls provides:

  • 34% improvement in process energy and a resultant reduction in environmental impacts
  • 27% improvement in carbon footprint (measured as carbon dioxide equivalents)
  • 73% lower water use than required for disposable coveralls, because water used for processing is returned to stream quality via wastewater treatment
  • 93% reduction in waste costs

These proves that selecting reusable coveralls for use in cleanroom and USP 797 facilities provides quality service to the employees, the manufacturing process and the overall facility management with a significantly lower environmental footprint.

This article first appeared in the June issue of Cleanroom Technology.

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