A 20 theatre hospital will discard approximately 100,000 single use surgical hats every year
Single use hats are made from Viscose - manufactured from hardwood tree pulp.
It is estimated that 120million trees are cut down each year for viscose production, some of which are in Indonesia, Canada and the Amazon, deforesting ancient woodland and therefore potentially degrading local ecosystems and adding to climate change.
The wood chips from the trees are pulped in a process requiring steam and chemicals such as sodium hydroxide. The pulp is then bleached with further chemicals such as chlorine. This process can result in toxic effluent discharges to local water courses.
The bleached pulp is then chemically treated, spun into fibres and bleached again - this process also creates a lot of wastewater.
Poor certification standards
Whilst there are certification standards for some of the production methods and forest management, it is not clear from the packaging or manufacturer’s websites that this is the case.
One reason often given for wearing single use hats is ‘infection control’ - however all available evidence to date indicates no difference in infection rates between single use and reusable theatre caps.
In fact some evidence indicates single use hats may represent a greater infection risk because of the pore size in the material.
Perhaps it would be wise for us to follow evidence based standards developed through collaboration with the AORN to provide a better level of care.
For those looking for guidance on best practice for home laundering of reusable theatre caps these guidelines provided by Mrs Scarlett McNally from the Royal College of Surgeons appears the most sensible given the available evidence.