New study says reusable towels pose no health risk

Textile rental services association TRSA has presented the results of a research that proves how reusable shop towels, foodservice napkins and healthcare isolation gowns are more sustainable than their disposable counterparts, the association reports in a news article on their website.

The findings of the study indicate that from “cradle to grave,” reusable items demonstrate superior environmental and human health performance and score better in a majority of documented scenarios. Best- and worst-cases were set up for resource conservation and pollution control across all phases of the lives of these reusables vs. their disposable counterparts, from raw material extraction through production, use and end-of-life. The research found that the reusables in all three product categories had a lesser impact on global warming than disposables and also performed better in head-to-head comparisons involving acidification, eutrophication, ozone depletion, fossil fuel depletion and smog creation. Whereas the superiority was evident in the analysis of isolation gowns, for napkins and shop towels, reusables’ median performance was greener in most such match-ups. Senior managing scientist Randall Wentsel, Ph.D., who performed the research, said the results for napkins varied because ‘the range in paper-making impacts is large and reusables’ washing impacts are relevant – especially for heavier products.’ Thus, bulkier goods, both paper and cloth, can have significant environmental impacts, but reusables’ effects decrease when washings per napkin rise. On shop towels, Wentsel noted that raw materials and manufacturing drove the scores. ‘The impact of polyester from disposables is considerably larger than cotton production from reusables,’ he said, although the latter didn’t fare as well in eutrophication and to a lesser extent in acidification. Reusables compare better in scenarios involving heavyweight disposables and their associated land filling burden. The study was commissioned by TRSA and conducted by Exponent Inc., Menlo Park, CA. TRSA wanted to provide a comprehensive profile of reusable textiles as the more sustainable choice for industrial, foodservice and healthcare businesses. Previous studies compared only the competing products’ solid-waste generation. The TRSA study’s research is nearly complete and a report will soon be submitted for critical peer review. Read more