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Materials Waste not, want not


The health sector is responsible for an estimated 4.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions – the vast majority of which originate in the supply chain. One of the easiest ways to start addressing that is to focus on recycling and reusing materials, as the first comprehensive life cycle assessment of reprocessed versus disposed ‘single-use’ devices makes clear. How can OEMs weigh up the pros and cons of recycling and reprocessing, and use this insight to make their own work more sustainable? Monica Karpinski finds out.


I


n the US, healthcare facilities generate an estimated 14,000t of waste per day, according to the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council (HPRC). Most of this is disposed of in landfills or via incineration, releasing pollutants that are actually harmful to human health. This also contributes to the global healthcare sector’s climate change footprint, which, as calculated by Healthcare without Harm and Arup, accounts for 4.4% of net greenhouse gas emissions. The vast majority of medical waste is produced through the disposal of single use devices. Officially, SUDs are designated for use on one patient during a single procedure, and some regulators explicitly advise against resterilising and reusing them – even on the same patient.


There is a clear argument for patient safety here, and perhaps also one for convenience. A discarded device won’t infect a patient it’s not used on; clinicians simply need to throw it out after use and reach for a new one. However, many SUDs can be recycled and reused safely, and doing so holds significant environmental benefit.


For a device to be recyclable, it must be non- contaminated and contain materials that can be handled by an available facility. A key opportunity here is plastic: currently, it is estimated by the HPRC that 20–25% of hospital waste is due to plastic packaging and products, 85% of which is free from contamination.


Some devices can be cleaned and resterilised before being used again, in a procedure known as


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Medical Device Developments / www.nsmedicaldevices.com


Ramil Gibadullin/Shutterstock.com


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