National economic and environmental benefit of reusable textiles in cleanroom industry
Michael Overcash and Evan Griffing
PDA Journal of Pharmaceutical Science and Technology 2021,
Access the most recent version at doi:10.5731/pdajpst.2020.012138
National Economic and Environmental Benefit of Reusable Textiles in Cleanroom Industry
Michael Overcash, PhD, Corresponding Author
National Economic and Environmental Benefit of Reusable Textiles in the Cleanroom Industry
Michael Overcash and Evan Griffing Environmental Clarity
In cleanroom facilities, both disposable and reusable textile garments (coveralls, boots, hoods, and frocks) meet the particulate standards from most rigorous to the most basic levels. However, the reusables clearly offer two other important benefits, lower annual cost and lower environmental impact. The objectives of this paper are to now provide quantitative reusable product benefits on a U.S. national environmental and economic basis. This is the first quantitative, novel multi-user economic evaluation of selecting cleanroom reusables over disposables. For personal protection equipment (PPE), these cost and environmental-benefits indicate there is also an improved environmental and economic aspect to the increased national demand for reusables related to Covid-19, while easily achieving necessary cleaning with approved detergents.
The current reusable cleanroom market (14.1 million packages) was estimated to be 60% nonsterile and 40% sterilized. The total market is about 50% reusable and 50% disposable. This research documents there is an annual cost reduction of about 58% when selecting reusables over disposables giving an economic savings to the U.S. cleanroom sector from reusables of about
$1.2 billion in the next decade. This is also saving the total U.S. about 136 million MJ natural resource energy/year (38 million kWh) and about 8.4 million kg CO2eq annually (removal of about 1,650 cars/yr). In a maximum hypothetical case for reusables at 87.5% of the market (12.5% are mandatory Hazmat disposable) would yield a U.S. national savings of nearly $2.1 billion/decade to the cleanroom sector bottom line, as well as 2.4 billion MJ nre savings in energy or removal of about 29,000 cars/decade. These results indicate there are effective, verifiable, and easily obtained environmental and economic benefits by the basic transition by diverse cleanrooms in deciding to select reusable garments.
Keywords: cleanroom reusable textiles; economic and environmental benefits, U.S. national benefits of reusables
Comparison of textile products in the marketplace often uncovers new information that can be influential in purchasing decision-making. It is important that such comparisons be quantitative, transparent, and utilize as equivalent as possible products, in order to have credible, usable information for decision-makers. These decision-makers can include purchasing agents, corporate policy specialists, those developing improved products, product users, supply chain specialists, and those concerned with larger societal issues, such as resource usage.
Over the years, two categories of cleanroom textile products have been the subject of decision- making comparisons. These are reusable versus single-use or disposable textile products. More specifically, it is the use of these textile product categories in specific industrial applications where the importance of purchasing or usage decisions are a priority. Textile products in cleanroom applications must be provided where very low particulate levels, often sterile conditions, as well as barriers to corrosive or pathogenic agents are needed. Cleanroom categories include semiconductor/electronics, pharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical compounding (with United States Pharmacopeia (USP) 797 and 800), electrostatic discharge-controlled environments, life science research, bio manufacturing, food manufacturing, food packaging/testing, medical devices, and new biomaterials processing (such as commercial legalized cannabis and vaping chemical products). Commercial laundries must continue to meet CDC standards (1)
In cleanrooms for all these sectors, textile products known as personal protective equipment (PPE) are widely used. The most common items are full cleanroom coveralls, cleanroom boots, cleanroom hoods, and cleanroom frocks (lab coats). These products are available in reusable (woven polyethylene terephthalate, PET) and single-use (high density polypropylene, PP, nonwoven, often spun bonded-melt blown-spun bonded, SMS), Figure 1 (2). Cleanroom textile garment sizes range from extra small to 9XL, although many disposables are made in one universal size. In addition, these are also made available as clean, not sterilized or clean, sterilized. Additionally, when the cleanroom single-use textile product is made, these must first be laundered to achieve the high standard of protection from particle generation. All new textile garments (reusable and disposable) are initially laundered and as needed sterilized to meet cleanroom particulate protection needs (ISO level 8 and below). The reusables are also laundered after each use. As found in a recent study of a large variety of products (3), the reusables are typically heavier and more durable thus allowing large numbers of recycle loops (50 to hundreds). This makes reusables more expensive to manufacture, but when calculated across the large number of use cycles, makes these less expensive than single-use items on an annual basis.
When the comparisons of single-use and reusables are made, the environment is often the metric that is studied. With over eight studies, across three countries (4-12), the environmental comparisons have consistently verified that the single-use textile garments have a significantly higher adverse impact on the environment for all metrics, such as energy, global warming potential (GWP), facility solid waste, and others.
The environmental benefit when cleanrooms select reusable textiles is clearly defined in detail in this paper and can be used by both suppliers and customers to add to their own environmental sustainability scorecards. Although a new comparison dimension that evaluates the magnitude of the cost benefit improvement from selecting reusables is widely acknowledged in the literature (13-17), there is still a need to quantify these cost benefits to reinforce the quantitative environmental benefits as a part of customer decision-making. In this analysis, the disposable and reusable cleanroom garments are assumed to perform the same protective function and hence are comparable at the operational level.
Goal and Scope
The objectives of this paper are to determine the reusable product benefits in a quantitative analysis of both the U.S. environmental and the economic evaluations when the decisions are made to move away from single-use cleanroom textile products. That is, for all the cleanrooms currently using reusable textile garments, what national environmental improvement has occurred because disposables are not used? A second objective is to estimate the larger economic and environmental benefits if all U.S. cleanrooms in all sectors were employing reusable textile garments (a type of maximum national benefit). This is the first customer quantitative study of the economics of cleanroom reusable/disposable garments and thus represents new knowledge in the broad cleanroom field. With the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for PPE has shifted toward increased reusables. The reusable benefits in this paper are thus also increased in the pandemic with resulting economic and environmental savings as a result of the pandemic, while still achieving the necessary cleaning with approved surfactants and detergents.
Two primary sources of data are used:
The detailed environmental life cycle inventory (LCI) comparison of reusable and disposable cleanroom garments as published by Vozzola, et al., 2018 (4) and
A compilation of 22 cleanroom customer documents comparing their relative annual cost of reusable versus disposable garments (the survey covered all four U.S regions and a wide range of annual usage).
Data were secured from reusable suppliers representing over 90% of the cleanroom market to be representative.
The detailed environmental data on reusable and single-use cleanroom coveralls (4) were used to establish the environmental footprint on the basis of 1,000 cleanroom uses. Reusable cleanroom coveralls (woven polyethylene terephthalate, PET) across the industry are cycled about 30 - 60 times for those laundered and sterilized and 60 - 90 times for those laundered only. The overall cleanroom garments are estimated at 40% sterilized and 60% not sterilized. For this study, 40 cycles were used for sterilized garments and 80 cycles for those just laundered. This leads to a composite (40% sterilized/laundered and 60% laundered only) average of 57 cycle times (that is, for 1,000 uses there are 17.5 new reusable coveralls manufactured). Further, we assume that in contracts with major cleanroom organizations, the commercial laundries follow CDC guidance
(1) as the industry standard.
For single-use cleanroom garments there are several materials on the market, but a large representative is spunbond-meltblown-spunbond polypropylene, SMS PP. This material will be used in this comparative national environmental comparison. The reusable is a woven PET fabric. Figure 1 shows the magnified view of the polymer structure for these two fabrics in these personal protective equipment (PPE).
Garment manufacturing process energies are based on the consumption of fuels, Table 1. For each MJ of energy put into the manufacturing process, laundry, sterilization, and transport, there
are direct fuels needed to create that MJ of energy. Energy is also needed to deliver these fuels to the point of use, as described in Table 1. In this paper the energy values in Table 1 are used and referred to as natural resource energy (nre) in order to document the full energy implications of these products. The LCI analyses were converted to two additional environmental impact indicators in the life cycle impact assessment stage: global warming potential (carbon footprint) and cleanroom facility solid waste.
With this extensive set of environmental information, it is important to look at other comparisons, specifically cost comparisons. For economic comparisons, there are challenges in obtaining quality detailed cleanroom or corporate data for this business information. The classical cost analysis methods involve detailed assignment of costs such as, purchase, space for storage, labor for delivery and cleaning, transportation, loss rates, laundry and sterilization, and end-of-life disposal. Economic comparisons of reusable and disposable protective textiles often include unspecified factors, making economic quantitative comparison difficult (13 - 17). No cost studies directly on cleanroom protective textiles have been published.
Thus, a novel, new economic analysis concept for cleanroom textile comparison was developed in this study. The cost comparison technique is to evaluate actual data of organizations considering or deciding to convert from single-use to reusable cleanroom garments. In these cases, the customer is provided with cost of the reusable system that is compared to their current single-use system. The veracity of these data is reasonable since valid data are needed to meet and retain customer expectations. False cost estimates would lead to customer rejection quickly. These case study data then can be used to evaluate the economics of these two cleanroom textile garment programs. Interestingly a number of others acknowledge reusable textiles to be the less expensive option (1, 18-22). We have not encountered any disposable cleanroom garment suppliers that state disposables are less expensive on an annual basis.
The details of the reusable versus disposable cleanroom coveralls for 1,000 uses in the cleanroom were previously published as an in-depth life cycle analysis from cradle to end-of-life (4). Because of the direct similarity of materials, laundry, sterilization, transport, and end-of-life between cleanroom coveralls (either reusable or disposable) and the respective reusable or disposable hoods, frocks, and boot pairs, the extrapolation of life cycle data from the coveralls to the full suite of cleanroom textile garments was based on the respective mass of all items. So the ratio of mass and usage frequency relative to coveralls were used to scale the PET reusable coveralls and PP disposable coveralls life cycle data to get the data for hoods, boot pairs, and frocks. Table 2 provides the weights and relative usage for these four cleanroom textile garments used for updating the coverall life cycle data. Integrating these weights and frequency of usage with the life cycle metrics we arrive at the life cycle quantification of the difference between the reusable PET and disposable PP cleanroom package, Table 3. This is given first on a basis of 1,000 cleanroom uses.
Based on internal data from three reusable firms totaling about 90% of the cleanroom reusable supply, there are about 14.1 million annual cleanroom coverall reusable uses in the U.S. in 2017.
The coverall-proportional usage of boots, frocks, and hoods were estimated from the case study data in Table 2 and are referred to as a cleanroom use package.
In this study we estimated the environmental savings from selecting the reusable cleanroom packages of textiles compared to selecting the disposable equivalent. Using the U.S. national use of cleanroom packages, the savings are on an annual basis. Three metrics were used to establish the reusable environmental benefits:
Natural resource energy (NRE), megajoules (MJ) as high heat value (HHV) of fossil resources removed from the ground and combusted to generate processing energy (electricity, heat, etc.) throughout the supply chain. This includes energy used to extract, transport, generate, and deliver energy to the point of use.
Global warming potential, GWP, mass of carbon dioxide equivalents, kg CO2eq, a unit of comparison for chemicals that result in global warming._J Different chemicals have different warming potentials and also different reactivities (persistence) in the environment._J
Solid waste at cleanroom – The total of disposable and end-of-life reusable cleanroom garments and all related packaging sent to disposal at cleanroom and laundry, kg.
In addition, to help establish the significance of these environmental savings, the equivalent in annual savings in kg CO2eq of other common societal practices are provided:
Automobile emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (27), an average vehicle has tailpipe CO2eq emissions of about 5.1 metric tons (or 5,100 kg) per year. The average vehicle on the road drives about 12,000 miles per year (EPA.GOV, 2011).
Annual food consumption of middle range diet in the U.S. based on 2,054 kg CO2eq per person-year) (25)
iPads® usage per year measured as the design life carbon footprint (95 kg CO2eq per iPad)(24)
Results in Table 3 are for the current U.S. cleanroom market distribution of about 50% reusables and 50% disposables. That is, these results are the current savings accomplished by all the cleanrooms that have selected reusables. The natural resource energy (nre) energy saving for the current annual 14.1 million cleanroom package uses of reusables textile garments and the equivalent number, if disposable, as seen in Table 3. This saving was found annually to be about 136 million MJ nre (38 million kWh).
When we examine the global warming potential (carbon footprint) of the cleanroom personal protection equipment savings it is about 8.4 million kg CO2eq per year, Table 3. Thus, the current cleanroom use of disposable are equivalent to adding another 1,650 cars and tail pipe emission to the U.S. carbon footprint. For the cleanroom facility solid waste, the reusable systems reduce the U.S. dependency on landfill by 5.6 million kg/year (6,100 tons/year). At the
U.S. 2018 national average landfill fee of $55.11/ton (23) these solid wastes required about
$340,000 in fees that are thus saved.
Results in Table 4 examine the hypothetical cleanroom market in which reusables grow to meet the entire cleanroom usage of coveralls, boots, hoods, and frocks. Instead of 100%, this is 87.5%
with the balance being disposables (10% - 15% restricted to disposables for Hazmat requirements). The same three environmental metrics are used and the same three societal practices are used for comparisons. An expansion to 87.5% of cleanrooms with reusables (to
24.7 million cleanroom packages per year), the overall the annual savings are 240 million MJ of natural resource energy, 14.8 million kg CO2eq, and 9,800 mt of municipal solid waste (about
$590,000 saving per year in landfill costs to bottom line of the cleanroom sector). The annual global warming potential savings (CO2eq) would be equivalent to removing 2,900 cars, the usage of 155,000 iPads®, or the food of an average diet of 7,200 people. This hypothetical scenario analysis illustrates the substantial benefit that is achieved whenever cleanroom decision are made to employ reusable cleanroom textile garments.
For the new economic analysis concept, reusable companies contributing data comprised about 90% of the cleanroom reusable market. Data are given in Table 5. Among these customers there is a substantial range in cleanroom annual usage (number of coveralls processed per customer) from 234,000 to 2,600. The regional coverage is also shown in Table 5. All customer cases had to be for longer than three years to assure realistic cost commitments were being offered (no short-term special offers).
The average annual cost savings reduced the customer’s annual expenditures [ratio of (disposable minus reusable cost) divided by disposable cost] by 58%, so more than a 50% reduction of that of the current single-use costs. Note, this cost savings is based on annual cost and not purchase cost. This reusable versus disposable comparison provides insight into other products in which a direct, actual product cost can be evaluated to decide on the selection of reusables. Such decisions are dependent on actual product costs to the customer.
The average annual cost savings of reusables of 58% of the disposable costs and can now be used to estimate the annual U.S. national economic gain by the cleanrooms’ decisions to undertake reusable textile garment systems. Based on the four reusable firms totaling over 95% of the cleanroom reusable supply, there are about 14.1 million annual reusable cleanroom coverall uses in the U.S. in 2017. The coverall-proportional usage of boots, frocks, and hoods were estimated from the case study data in Table 6 and are referred to as a cleanroom use package. The range of disposable cleanroom package costs from customer data is from about
$20 to about $16. Using the average of the data ($14.85 per disposable cleanroom package), a 58% savings in cost compared to a disposable cleanroom package, and the national usage rate of reusable cleanroom packages (14.1 million reusables), the national annual cleanroom corporate savings is about $120 million (range $106 million – $141 million). Over a decade this is $1.2 billion. These savings go directly to the cleanrooms’ bottom line as well as being recognized as an environmental improvement on their sustainability scorecards.
At this hypothetical level of reusable usage there would become about 24.7 million reusable cleanroom packages per year. This would increase the national economic benefit to cleanrooms from a reusable program to $210 million (range $186 million - $246 million) per year, (nearly
$2.1 billion dollars in a decade), directly to the cleanroom industry bottom line.
Discussion of Future Analysis Goals
There are other comparisons that could be helpful in cleanroom garment operations and decisions. One would be comfort, but few formal studies appear to be published (28), with the available citations in personal protection equipment being for surgery. Most of the publications are indirect for comfort, like thermophysiologic models and fabric vapor transmission (29-31). There is one direct PPE usage comfort comparison between disposables and reusables (32). The surgical teams on 119 surgical procedures in two hospitals compared both types of gowns by wearing each type in various surgeries. Surgeons and technicians rated the reusable gowns as significantly more comfortable.
Another comparison would be the regional or local accessibility of firms to reprocess the cleanroom textiles. While this might appear to be a limit on reusables, the need for cleanroom single-use textiles to be laundered to reach cleanroom particle standards requires some similar network of laundries.
The environmental benefits for the entire U.S. industrial cleanroom market of selecting reusable textile garments is now estimated from detailed life cycle data on reusable and disposable products. At the U.S. national level, savings accrued in energy use of over 141 million MJ nre each year (over a decade it is 1.4 billion MJ nre saved), just by the current selection of reusables. The national annual cleanroom corporate economic savings is about $120 million. Over a decade this is $1.2 billion. Note these savings are based on annual costs and not simply purchase cost. Similar significant benefits are shown for global warming potential and cleanroom solid waste generation. These new U.S. data quantify and reinforce the economic and environmental benefits of cleanroom decisions for selecting reusables. This information can be used by policy makers, sustainability program directors, purchasing organizations, and others.
If the cleanroom industry would pursue even greater environmental improvement and move to the full market (except 12.5% mandated as disposables), this increases the energy savings to 2.4 billion MJ nre per decade or removing 2,900 cars/yr. The financial savings of a full market use of reusables is about $210 million/year (nearly $2.1 billion in a decade).
The environmental, and now the documented cost benefits, of reusable cleanroom textile garments are consistent, factual, and widespread. From this study, the reusable cost savings did not appear to depend on the size of the cleanroom operation nor the region of the country where these are located. These benefits are directly accrued to the cleanroom operating organizations’ bottom line in their financial reporting and increasingly to their sustainability scorecards. In addition, the manufacturers and the laundry organizations can share the sustainability credits across all their customers. With the Covid-19 pandemic, demand for PPE has shifted toward increased reusables.
The reusable benefits in this paper of this shift are thus also increased in the pandemic with resulting economic and environmental savings as a result of the pandemic, while still achieving
the necessary cleaning with approved surfactants and detergents. This information can thus help cleanroom firms’ decision-making to guide a path for cost and environmental improvement.
Conflict of Interest Declaration
The authors declare that they have no competing interests. The information in this research was coordinated by the American Reusable Textiles Association (ARTA) Cleanroom Committee with representatives of single-use and reusable firms.
Professional Inputs by the Reusable and Single-use Organizations as
Members of the Cleanroom Life Cycle Committee of ARTA are greatly appreciated.
List of Abbreviations
ARTA - American Reusable Textile Association CO2eq - carbon dioxide equivalent
G - gram
GWP - global warming potential Hazmat - hazardous materials
ISO - International Organization for Standardization Kg - kilogram
kWh - kilowatt-hour
LCI - life cycle inventory MJ - megajoule
NRE or nre - natural resource energy PET - polyethylene terephthalate
PP - polypropylene
PPE - personal protection equipment
SMS - spunbond-meltblown-spunbond XL - extra large
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Figure 1. Comparison of porosity and tightness of fabrics used in disposable and reusable personal protection equipment (PPE) fabrics (same magnification, 50X) (2).
As protective barriers the microscopic structure demonstrates the differences betwee reusables and disposables, 50X magnification, Glosson 2020 (2)
Flash spun high density polyethylene (PP) nonwoven fabric for cleanroom garments 50X
Woven PET fabric with carbon fiber for electrostatic discharge used in cleanroom garments 50X
Table 1. Relationship of MJ process energy used in manufacturing processes to MJ total natural resource energy (nre) consumed to produce that energy.
Process Energy Conversion to fossil Natural Resource Energy (NRE)
factors**, MJ fuel
extracted from earth
and used in
generation per MJ
Natural resource energy, MJ HHV fuel delivered per MJ
Transmission and delivery loss
Total scale up factor (precombustion times generation/combusti on times transmission loss), MJ HHV total fuel consumed for this use per MJ into
* Transportation energy, 440 kJ/kg chemical, is included for each chemical listed.
** Precombustion factors account for energy in cradle to gate production of fuel. Natural resource factors are an efficiency and show the MJ of fuel used to produce a MJ of energy.
*** 40% fuel oil, 60% natural gas
**** Electricity values are US grid % average of all combustion (62% of grid) and non- combustion generation of electricity (38% of grid) with U.S. transmission loss of 5% (https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=105&t=3 ). The fossil fuel sources are 2.63, while a
small amount of fossil energy is used in the renewable supply chain (0.03 MJ/MJ into process)
Table 2. Representative weights and frequency of U.S. cleanroom use for textile garments
Cleanroom Textile Garments
based on frequency of use
* weight based on distribution frequency of sizes for coveralls, boot pairs, and frocks. Hoods are universal.
** weight based on distribution of sizes for coveralls, hoods, boot pairs, and frocks are universal.
Table 3. Results of current market U.S. benefits of current adoption of cleanroom reusable textile garments
Current U.S. Cleanroom Market Status (50% single-use and 50% reusables) (based on a distribution of 40% sterilized/laundered and 60% laundered with 40 cycle life for sterilized and 80 cycle life for laundered) (14.1 million U.S. annual usage of cleanroom packages)
Natural Resource Energy, MJnre
Adjusted for Cleanroom Package
Weight, MJ/1000 uses
, million MJ nre
Annual Savings, million MJ nre per year
Global Warming Potential, GWP (carbon footprint), kg CO2 eq
Adjusted for Cleanroom Package Weight, kg CO2 eq /1000
Annual U.S. GWP,
Annual Savings, million kg CO2 eq
Cleanroom Facility Solid Waste, kg
Coverall Weight based on ARTA
Solid Waste Adjusted for Cleanroom Package Weight, kg solid waste at cleanroom
Annual U.S. Solid Waste, million kg solid waste
Annual Savings, million kg solid waste at cleanroom
Equivalent environmental benefits to kg
CO2eq saved by current annual use of reusables textile garments in U.S.
Cars per year
design life of I-pad mini per year
Persons per year with average diet
Table 4. Results of U.S. benefits of hypothetical full adoption of cleanroom reusable textile garments for whole cleanroom market (with exception of 12.5% or market where Hazmat needs are for single use garments)
Reusable coveralls expanding to the full U.S. cleanroom market
(except for 12.5% mandatory single-use garments), 24.5 million annual cleanroom packages
Environmental Impacts/1000 uses (based on a distribution of 40% sterilized/laundered and 60%
laundered with 40 cycle life for sterilized and 80 cycle life for laundered coverall) (full U.S. cleanroom market (except for 12.5% mandatory single-use garments)
Natural Resource Energy, MJnre
Cleanroom Package Weight, kg
NRE Adjusted for Cleanroom Package Weight, MJ/1000
Annual U.S., million MJnre
Annual Savings, million MJnre
Global Warming Potential, GWP (carbon footprint), kg CO2 eq
Solid waste adjusted for cleanroom
package weight, kg CO2 eq /1000 uses
Annual U.S. GWP, kg CO2 eq
Annual savings, million kg CO2 eq
Cleanroom Facility Solid Waste, kg
Cleanroom Package Weight, kg
Cleanroom facility Solid Waste Adjusted for Cleanroom Package Weight; kg CO2 eq
Annual U.S. Solid Waste, million kg
Annual Solid Waste Savings for Cleanroom Facility, annual million kg of trash placed in
Equivalent environmental benefits to kg CO2eq saved by full market annual use of reusables textile
garments in U.S.
Cars per year
Design life of I-pad mini per year
Persons per year with average
Table 5. Cost reduction of implementing cleanroom reusable program compared to single-use program.
cleanroom packages per
% of all items sterilized
customer region of
Cost Reduction, (disposable cost reusable cost per year)/ disposable cost
per year, %
Case # 1
Case # 2
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Case # 25
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·Post articles from the PDA Journal on Web sites, either available on the Internet or an Intranet, or in any form of online publications
·Transmit electronically, via e-mail or any other file transfer protocols, any portion of the PDA Journal
·Create a searchable archive of any portion of the PDA Journal
·Use robots or intelligent agents to access, search and/or systematically download any portion of the PDA Journal
·Sell, re-sell, rent, lease, license, sublicense, assign or otherwise transfer the use of the PDA Journal or its content
·Use or copy the PDA Journal for document delivery, fee-for-service use, or bulk reproduction or distribution of materials in any form, or any substantially similar commercial purpose
·Alter, modify, repackage or adapt any portion of the PDA Journal
·Make any edits or derivative works with respect to any portion of the PDA Journal including any text or graphics
·Delete or remove in any form or format, including on a printed article or photocopy, any copyright information or notice contained in the PDA Journal