Harish Jayadharan
​Harish Jayadharan, a perioperative service attendant at Toronto General Hospital, dons a reusable isolation gown every shift. As a member of UHN's Green Team – employees who volunteer their time to make their departments more sustainable – he's grateful for the shift away from disposable. (Photo: UHN)​

UHN continues to uphold its reputation as a world-leading green hospital – this time with an impressive reduction in waste from personal protective equipment (PPE) by almost fully transitioning from disposable isolation gowns to reusable ones.

While UHN has been using reusable isolation gowns for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic put extreme pressure on the supply of disposable PPE, which led many more clinics and units to switch to reusable gowns.

Today, 99 per cent of isolation gowns at UHN are reusable.

According to Joanne Bridle, Executive Director of UHN's Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operations (FM-PRO) Department, reusable isolation gown use more than tripled to 120,000 gowns per week during the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early 2020, UHN partner Ecotex Healthcare Linen Services was in the process of ramping up inventory of isolation gowns to meet demand across the region. As supply was tight in the early days of the pandemic, Ecotex worked closely with Joanne's team to develop a rapid turnaround program that collected soiled gowns and delivered clean ones multiple times per day.

UHN's Linen and Laundry team, part of FM-PRO, helped get the process in place by setting up special hampers in each unit to collect reusable gowns only.

"Our team worked magic to get the reusable gown process in place to collect and return soiled gowns to Ecotex three times a day," says Joanne. "Through this creative – and sustainable – local initiative, TeamUHN was consistently provided with high quality reusable isolation gowns to continue caring for patients safely during this very challenging time."

Bryan Bartsch, President & CEO of Ecotex Healthcare Linen Services, says it made sense to partner with UHN on this rapid turnaround program.

"UHN has always had a lens on innovation and environmental sustainability," says Bryan. “The rapid isolation gown turnaround program really speaks to their focus and leadership in this space, and the strong partnership between the organizations."

Today, with Ecotex's increased supply of reusable isolation gowns, the linen delivery has returned to regular delivery and collection schedules.

Rosa Carolo (L), a cleaner at Toronto Rehab, Lyndhurst Centre, and Shahithra Ramesh, a registered practical nurse at the site, pose for a photo in their reusable isolation gowns. Lyndhurst Centre was the last UHN site to make the switch from disposable isolation gowns. (Photo: UHN)

For Joanne and the FM-PRO team, who have been working to transition UHN to reusable isolation gowns for many years, the long-term switch "just makes sense."

"It helps reduce the environmental impact of single-use disposables ending up in landfill, so it's sustainable – and it's cheaper," says Joanne, adding that reusable isolation gowns are 60 per cent of the cost of disposables. "For UHN, reusable isolation gowns ensure staff and patient safety, save money, and are better for the environment.

"It hits our sustainability sweet spot."

Harish Jayadharan, a perioperative service attendant at Toronto General Hospital, dons an isolation gown almost every shift.

“Reusable isolation gowns means there is a little less waste that goes to landfill – so I'm happy to use them," Harish says.

UHN is committed to delivering A Healthier World through a sustainable environment. Some other notable green projects include:

  • Building the world's largest raw Wastewater Energy Transfer (WET) System at Toronto Western Hospital. The WET System will use thermal energy from wastewater flowing through a nearby municipal sewer to supply up to 90 per cent of the hospital's heating and cooling needs, significantly reducing use of existing electric and natural gas systems. This will reduce the site's direct greenhouse gas emissions by about 10,000 metric tonnes each year.
  • Abandoning traditional air conditioning systems – one of the most energy-intense parts of a building – and replacing them with Enwave's Deep Lake Water Cooling (DLWC) System, a renewable, sustainable cooling system that reduces energy consumption by 90 per cent. DLWC uses cold water from Lake Ontario to provide air conditioning and cooling – at Toronto Rehab, University Centre (installed in 2010), Toronto General Hospital (installed in 2018) and, most recently, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
  • Operation Green, led by UHN's Energy & Environment team, also part of FM-PRO, is an organization-wide program that collects surplus, unused, or expired medical supplies to donate to countries in need. Read about last year's Operation Green donation to earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria.
  • Providing sustainable transportation, such as offering more than 1,000 bicycle parking spots across UHN.
  • Installation of 15,000 LED lights and dozens of electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Recycling programs from waste diversion to proper biomedical waste disposal – UHN has a waste diversion rate of 41 per cent!

To learn more about UHN's transition to reusable gowns, read a study led by the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare.

UHN also uses reusable PPE in the Operating Room. Dr. Rafi Husain (L), a clinical fellow, and Dr. Barbara Jemec, a surgeon in Toronto Western Hospital’s Hand Clinic, pose for a photo in reusable OR gowns. (Photo: UHN)
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