Cleanroom coveralls are an essential component in facilities for the bioprocessing, life sciences, and semiconductor sectors. By simply adopting reusable garments, the cleanroom facilities can add directly to their sustainability score sheet in the areas of lower energy, improved water footprint, and landfill reductions.
The life cycle study reported herein provides information for use in sustainability scorecards. However, with recent revisions of USP 797, and pending implementation of USP 800 in 2018, cleanroom coveralls are expanding in use to meet sterility and chemical control guidelines. New uses for these coveralls include a variety of compounding facilities (such as for pharmaceuticals that are hazardous, used in radiopharmacology, allergen extracts, and ancillary storage facilities) and many hospital pharmacies. These new markets can achieve the desired product and patient protection and also meet sustainability and environmental improvement goals, based on this new life cycle study.
Life cycle analysis (LCA) is the principal tool used to quantify sustainability scorecards and environmental improvement of processes, products, chemicals, services, or materials. LCA is used to compare two or more products by quantifying the energy, mass efficiency, and emissions of each product in order to determine what sustainability credits occur when the best alternative is chosen. The LCA of cleanroom coveralls compares reusable (multi-use) and disposable (single-use) coveralls 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 these products. The terminology and scope are given in Fig. 1.
The LCA compares size extra-large (XL) reusable and disposable coveralls. 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 to Class 5 standards and are single-piece, long-sleeve, and zip-up garments. The coveralls in the study do not include a hood, gloves, or booties. In the representative cleanroom market it was found that about 40 percent of both disposable and reusable coveralls are delivered sterilized. The disposable manufacturing processes cannot deliver sufficiently clean garments to meet cleanroom standards. Thus, the disposable and reusable coveralls are subject to the same laundry process, which cleans to the appropriate standards. Both disposable and reusable coveralls are sterilized by gamma irradiation (included in the study) and the laundry wastewater is treated by standard aerobic municipal processes (also included in the study) using the soil load from direct measurements. At EOL, the 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 the study was 1,000 coverall uses in an ISO Class 1 to Class 5 cleanroom. For disposable coveralls, this is 1,000 coveralls, of which 400 are sterilized before use. For reusable coveralls, the representative usage for each coverall is 60 cycles if only laundered, and 40 cycles if laundered and sterilized. Thus, reuse pattern indicates that 20 new reusable coveralls are needed to deliver 1,000 cleanroom uses. The fabrics used in each coverall are shown at 200x magnification in Fig. 2.
This in-depth life cycle study demonstrated a number of direct benefits to the firm operating the cleanroom or USP 797 facility that can be included in their sustainability program (outcomes) or in other direct information to customers. In terms of energy reduction, selecting reusable coveralls gives a 34 percent improvement in process energy and a resultant reduction in environmental impacts. This translates into a 27 percent improvement in carbon footprint (measured as carbon dioxide equivalents). The water footprint of reusable coveralls is 73 percent lower than disposable coveralls when accounting for water being returned to stream quality by wastewater treatment. Finally, the reusable option reduces delivery of solid waste to the landfill by 93 percent, thus leading to direct cost savings.
In conclusion, the choice to select reusable coveralls for use in cleanroom and USP 797 facilities provides quality service to the employees, the manufacturing process, and the overall management of these facilities. It also does this with a significantly lower environmental footprint.
Eric Vozzola, Evan Griffing, and Michael Overcash, Ph.D., are with Environmental Clarity. Eric is a Life Cycle Analyst and undertakes in-depth analyses of new chemicals, materials, products, and processes using life cycle technology, including wind turbine blades, woven and nonwoven garments, carpets, and pharmaceuticals. Evan is Director of Life Cycle Assessment, where he manages a large database of life cycle inventories with a focus on the chemical industry. Michael is Director of Sustainability Research, where he directs projects in comparative systems for environmental benefit and sustainability improvement. firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.environmentalclarity.com
The American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) is a non-profit trade association with a mission to create greater awareness and appreciation for reusable textiles. Its members are suppliers and operators in the textile services industry. The ARTA Cleanroom Committee organized industry participation and funding for the LCA conducted by Environmental Clarity. www.arta1.com