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Sustainable & Ethical Scrubs —Why Are They Different?

Sustainable & Ethical Scrubs —Why Are They Different?

In the last few years, the number of brands offering sustainable and ethical scrubs has increased sharply. Sustainable fashion statistics show the industry is growing at a rapid rate, with more and more people choosing ethical, eco-friendly products every year.

As nursing is a caring profession, it’s no surprise that many of the people who work in healthcare are also passionate about the environment and about developing communities around the world. As a result, an increasing number of scrubs brands have started to offer sustainable, ethically sourced scrubs. So, what exactly do these terms mean? And could you make a difference by choosing scrubs that are a little kinder on the environment?


What Are Sustainable Scrubs?

Unlike standard scrubs, which are often made using synthetic textiles, sustainable scrubs are made from materials that are eco-friendly and renewable. These fabrics are often derived from plants and recycled materials, and most will biodegrade over time.


Materials Used in Sustainable Scrubs

Manufacturers use a variety of sustainable materials to make eco-friendly scrubs. These include:

  • Cotton
  • Bamboo
  • Tencel
  • Recycled polyester

Of these, cotton is probably the most commonly used. Renewable, natural and organic cotton is a good choice for sustainable medical scrubs. However, cotton production does have its issues. Cotton plants are incredibly thirsty. In fact, it takes around 2,700 litres of water to produce just one cotton T-shirt, that’s enough drinking water for one person for 900 days.

Cotton production also uses a lot of pesticides. Something that can have serious consequences for the environment. Buying workwear made from organic cotton will help to cut down on the use of pesticides, however, even organic cotton requires a lot of water during the production process.

Bamboo is often considered an even more sustainable option for high-quality medical scrubs. Incredibly fast-growing, bamboo can be used to make durable and hard wearing scrub tops and scrub pants. Stretchy and comfortable, it’s popular with ethical scrub brands.

However, like cotton, there is a downside. A number of highly toxic chemicals are required in order to transform raw bamboo into a usable material. These chemicals are bad for the environment and local wildlife.

Tencel (commonly known as Lyocell) is a semi-synthetic fibre that can be used to make sustainable and comfortable scrubs for healthcare workers. A form of regenerated cellulose (wood pulp), Tencel doesn’t require any toxic chemicals during its production, making it more sustainable than other similar fabrics like Rayon.

Recycled polyester is another good option for sustainable medical scrubs. Though not biodegradable or renewable like the other textiles on our list, it’s considered to be sustainable because it helps to keep plastic bottles and single use water bottles out of landfill. That’s because it’s made from recycled plastic bottles which are processed and transformed into fabric that can then be used to make comfy scrubs for healthcare professionals.


Benefits of Eco-Friendly Scrubs for the Environment

The exact benefits of eco-friendly scrubs vary slightly depending on the fabric used. Some of the main benefits include: 

Lower carbon footprint

Eco-friendly scrubs often utilize sustainable materials such as organic cotton or bamboo, which require less energy-intensive processes for cultivation and manufacturing compared to conventional materials like conventional cotton or synthetic fibers. Additionally, eco-friendly production processes may involve renewable energy sources and energy-efficient manufacturing techniques, further reducing carbon emissions.

Lower water consumption

Eco-friendly scrubs use less water in production by utilizing materials like organic cotton and employing water-saving technologies. For instance, water recycling systems, dyeing methods that use less water, and sustainable water management practices can significantly reduce water consumption in the production of eco-friendly scrubs. Certifications like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) ensure that eco-friendly textiles meet stringent criteria, including water usage standards, throughout the production chain.

Fewer toxic chemicals used during the production process

Eco-friendly scrubs prioritize safe production methods, like natural dyes and organic farming, reducing harmful chemical use. Certifications like OEKO-TEX ensure products are safe and sustainable.

Biodegradable (except for recycled polyester)

Many eco-friendly scrub materials, like organic cotton, bamboo, and lyocell, are biodegradable, breaking down naturally and reducing landfill waste. Recycled polyester, though not biodegradable, promotes circularity by diverting plastic waste from landfills and reducing the need for virgin polyester production.

Helps to divert waste from landfill

By choosing eco-friendly scrubs, consumers support a circular economy model that prioritizes resource efficiency, waste reduction, and closed-loop systems. Recycling programs and initiatives promote the collection, processing, and reuse of textile waste, further minimizing the environmental impact of textile production and disposal.


What Are Ethical Scrubs?

For scrubs to be truly ethical, the entire production process, from start to finish, needs to be fair for the workers, the company owners and their communities. This means that scrubs brands need to thoroughly investigate every part of their supply chain to ensure no one is being taken advantage of.


Factors that Make Scrubs Ethical

In order for a scrubs collection to be considered ethical, the manufacturer needs to source their fabric from companies with fair working practices. They also need to make their men’s and women scrubs in factories that pay their workers properly. Businesses in every part of the supply chain, from fabric production to assembly and shipping, also need to treat their employees and communities with the respect they deserve.


Benefits of Ethical Scrubs for Workers and Communities

Sourcing ethical women’s and men scrubs benefits workers and their communities in a number of ways. Most importantly, companies that make ethical scrubs, whether in Australia or in other parts of the world, will pay their employees a living wage. This can have a massive impact on workers, their families and their communities and help in the fight against global poverty.


Sustainable vs Ethical Medical Scrubs 

There’s a significant crossover between ethical and sustainable scrubs. In most cases, brands that value sustainability will also put efforts into sourcing ethically produced workwear. In general, ‘sustainable’ refers to the materials and processes used, while ‘ethical’ refers to the treatment of workers and suppliers.


Can Scrubs Be Sustainable & Ethical?

Ideally, medical professionals should look for scrubs that are ethical and sustainable. Sourcing scrub tops and bottoms that fall into both categories can help to support the environment and developing communities around the world.


How Healthcare Institutions Can Incorporate Sustainable and Ethical Scrubs 

The easiest way to incorporate sustainable and ethical scrubs into your healthcare institution is to find a retailer that specialises in environmentally friendly, ethically sourced workwear. Many brands that place an emphasis on green and ethical policies offer a fantastic choice of high-quality scrubs including jogger scrub pants, ceil blue scrubs tops and comfortable scrubs with a 4-way stretch.

Ethically sourced, sustainable scrubs can cost slightly more than standard scrubs. However, thanks to the positive impact that they have on the environment and on developing communities, they’re well worth the extra. 

Due to growing demand from medical professionals and healthcare institutions, an increasing number of manufacturers are offering sustainable and ethical scrubs collections. Learn more, and start shopping for sustainable scrubs of your own, by taking a look around or getting in touch with a member of our team.



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