Are disposable hospital supplies trashing the environment?

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  1. Robert Chase

    Really great article opening up this important discussion. There ARE many single-use disposables, and many advocacy groups, healthcare workers and organizations tackling the waste problem and pollution these cause to the environment. We have looked at many packaging alternatives, and materials and work specifically with the guidelines set forth from the HPRC (Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council)- and some of the newer recyclable plastics developed at DuPont that can provide clinical efficacy, sterilization and shelf-life. Our focus is not only on these end of life issues and challenges but on new materials – ones less toxic to people and planet. Our founding mission was to reimagine the possibilities in the materials used. For over 5 years we’ve tested, validated and researched up-cycled and ‘cleaner’ materials – meaning less use of non-renewable resources and the dirty manufacturing process of making plastic to more of a circular economy model – we call our approach Smart Sustainable Design – something I look at as an equation – product performance paramount – then economic value and sustainability. Our first product is made with over 60% plant based material that will be long gone, after plastic will still be around polluting our environment. The small amount of plastic left can be recycled, and other metal pieces reused. Not mentioned in the article is reprocessing which is one area hospitals are finding great savings – financial and environmentally. Not all single-use disposables can be reprocessed however. Now with the newly developed TCO tool released by Practice Greenhealth, it’s great these other costs will be increasingly taken into consideration by purchasing professionals in healthcare systems. Supply chain transparency is also important, understanding the “back story” of product manufacturing and the full impacts of the materials and externalized costs associated with production and distribution.This is where the TCO can help hospitals understand the full impacts of the products they buy. Healthy planet, healthy people and patients.

  2. David Zakus

    excellent article, on a very little publicized topic. Kudos to UHN and others for trying to be environmentally conscious.

  3. CrazyTosser

    After these products are properly disposed, the process of treating them for minimizing environmental effect begins. Water treatment facilities use different processes in order to minimize or fully eliminate the amount of these pollutants. This is done by using sorption where suspended solids are removed by sedimentation .

  4. DC

    This is a decision I have wrestled with as well. I will agree that cost is a major motivator for using more disposables. A lot of the cost is for human resources in the reprocessing department. It would be helpful to have an objective analysis of the environmental impact of the reprocessing of re-usables. There is all of the factors in the manufacture of reusable instruments, then the electricity, water, chemicals, sterilizing machines to sterilize them. Re-usables do break and wear out, so they are discarded as well. Then there is the manufacture of re-usable instrument tray linens, laundry of linens, patching of and eventual disposal of linens.

  5. Katrina Dirken

    Finding ways to reduce waste is vital for sustainability and this article showed a few interesting ways environmental leaders are making this happen.

    As mentioned in this article, a lot of the medical supplies in the garbage aren’t garbage at all. Not Just Tourists, for example, is a non-profit that collects these surplus medical supplies and sends them with travelers around the world to people who need them. I personally volunteer at the Toronto chapter and if anyone is interested in learning more about the movement or how they can get involved I encourage you to check out our website

  6. mary

    drove me to distraction the amount of plastic waste just in the lab, and this article does not take into consideration the overall hospital plastic waste. . . for example one hospital in Hamilton served all patients their meals and snacks with single use plastic from the tray to the cling wrap to contain the contents of the tray. . .i guess because it is cheaper to toss out than to employ dishwashers but in the long run is it?

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