The medical scrub industry in the United States is valued at $8.11 billion.
Nurses, as well as other medical professionals, spend an inordinate amount of money on scrubs each year. By switching to more sustainable nursing uniforms, they could make a significant impact on the environment and do good for the planet as well as their patients.
Learn more about the latest sustainable fashion trends for nurses — as well as the importance of sustainable nursing uniforms — below.
Conventional medical scrubs have more consequential effects on the environment than most nurses (and other medical professionals) realize. The following are some of the most noteworthy ones:
The majority of medical scrubs — including those worn by nurses — are made from a blend of polyester and cotton.
Cotton requires large amounts of water to grow (it takes 2,700 liters to make one T-shirt), and it can worsen water scarcity issues as a result. Polyester, on the other hand, is a petroleum byproduct and is not biodegradable.
Many sets of colored scrubs also get their color from harmful chemical dyes. The use of chemical dyes in production facilities can contribute to water and soil pollution in the surrounding area. As these chemicals accumulate over time, they put humans, animals, and plants at risk.
Medical scrubs must be transported from production facilities to distribution centers. These transportation processes typically involve large vehicles that contribute to carbon emissions in the air as they drive long distances, often across state lines.
When it comes to production facilities based overseas, the emissions and subsequent air pollution increase even further.
Single-use scrubs are often used during surgical procedures and in situations in which nurses might be exposed to harmful pathogens.
Because they can’t be washed and reused, single-use scrubs are particularly harmful to the planet, especially if they’re not disposed of properly. They typically end up in landfills, where they will take hundreds of years or longer to break down (and contribute to the production of greenhouse gases in the process).
Fortunately, given recent advancements, nurses and other medical professionals can now choose sustainable or ethical scrubs. Instead of buying scrubs made from polyester-cotton blends, they can choose uniforms made from more sustainable fabrics, including these options:
Some sets of medical scrubs are made from recycled materials, such as plastic water bottles. Buying scrubs made from these fabrics is an excellent option for those who want to support sustainable businesses that work to keep single-use plastics out of landfills.
Bamboo requires very little water (especially compared to cotton) and doesn’t need fertilizers or pesticides (many of which contain harmful chemicals) to grow.
Bamboo is also naturally antibacterial and hypoallergenic.
For those who simply prefer the feel of cotton compared to other fabrics, organic cotton is a good alternative. It is grown without reliance on harmful pesticides and other chemicals, but it does still require a great deal of water.
Fluorine-free technology is an impressive process for making water-resistant medical scrubs without releasing fluorine, a potentially toxic chemical, into the environment.
You don’t have to throw all your scrubs out and start from ground zero. Here is a more sustainable approach you can take to build an eco-friendly nurse wardrobe:
Speaking of landfills, do your best to keep your scrubs out of the landfill by reusing and recycling them.
Some charitable organizations will take gently used scrubs off your hands and make them available to people who can’t afford new ones. You can also cut your scrubs into dish rags, cleaning cloths, or other household items.
As you work on building a more sustainable wardrobe, focus on the quality of your new scrubs rather than buying as many sets as possible. Remember, overconsumption is harmful to the planet, too. Buy what you need, but resist the urge to go overboard.
In the coming years, scrubs made from eco-friendly fabrics will indeed become more mainstream. Sustainable nurse fashion doesn’t stop there, though.
Here are some additional trends you will likely see in the future:
Many scrub manufacturers are making scrubs that are highly functional — for example, they include extra pockets for pens and ID cards — and made from durable fabrics so they can be used for years to come.
Scrub manufacturers are also experimenting with different styles of scrubs, including athleisure-inspired sets, to create garments that people want to wear regularly and, hopefully, won’t need to be replaced as often.
Keeping scrubs fresh and clean can feel like a second full-time job for nurses. Repeated washings also lead to excessive water usage and cause scrubs to wear out faster (meaning they’ll need to be replaced more frequently).
Luckily, silver alloy-embedded fabrics are antimicrobial and can keep scrubs cleaner in between washings by fighting off odors, bacteria, and germs.
Making the switch to more sustainable scrub trends for nurses is an easy way to do your part to support the planet while also dressing more comfortably and fashionably on the job.
It doesn’t matter if you switch to bamboo scrubs or anti-microbial fabrics that allow you to wear your uniforms longer. There are tons of ways that you can make a difference!