Hospitals use a lot of plastic in their daily operations. If you ever enter one, look around and you’ll see what we mean. A lot of the plastic you see winds up in landfills or in the ocean, hurting our planet. In this piece, we’ll explore the idea of using plastic alternatives for hospitals, and we’ll take a look at some examples from around the world.
Since the mid-1900s, the medical industry has heavily relied on single-use plastic. As a material, it meets the needs of the hospital without adding a significant cost. The only problem is that this plastic is a huge source of pollution and excessive waste.
In the medical industry, a lot of these plastic devices are used once then discarded. Often, this is required for safety. The problem, however, isn’t that they’re only used once, it’s that the material used is harmful. The solution has to revolve around finding viable plastic-free alternatives that don’t risk safety and effectiveness.
How Much Plastic is Being Used in Hospitals?
If you look at hospitals alone, there’s a lot of plastic waste. One hospital will generate 25 pounds of plastic waste from a single patient in a single day. When you start doing the math, it turns out that hospitals generate more than 5 million tons of waste every year.
Where is Plastic Being Used?
There are many different places where plastic is being used in a hospital including gloves, bandages, and packaging. Many products use plastic to seal instruments that need to be sterilized before use.
Types of Plastics Used
Again, the type of plastic will vary depending on the application and product. In general, you’ll find plenty of PVC, polyethylene, and polyurethane. PVC is widely known to contain toxic chemicals which do damage even after the product is disposed of. After scrapping the plastic, it can sit around in a landfill for more than a thousand years before fully breaking down and decomposing.
Focusing on Sustainability
In a hospital, it might seem impossible to focus on sustainability. When people’s lives are at risk, you might be tempted to forget about the environment.
You’ll see in the following sections that sustainability is possible in hospitals across the world. The instruments have the same level of sterilization and quality, but they have smaller impacts on the environment. This can be done through reusing products, recycling, upcycling, reducing waste, and using plastic alternatives for hospitals.
Potentially Reusing Materials
When possible, hospitals should reuse their previously one-use items. There was a survey of 332 hospitals that looked at what items are only used once before discarding. Among the offenders were surgical basins and wraps for sterilization. If the hospitals were to reuse these items, which doesn’t hurt the medical procedures going on in the hospitals, then they could
Recycling in Hospitals
There’s also an opportunity to recycle plastic products. If hospitals aren’t able to steer away from this material type, then they’ll have to consider environmentally friendly ways to use it.
Since hospitals can predict which items they’ll use, they can arrange a mass recycling program for gloves, gowns, and other items. They can even consider using recycled materials for these items as long as they can remain sanitized.
At a minimum, plastic should stay out of the trash cans in a hospital. Recycling doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it lessens the impact of these single-use products.
Recently, a company named ecoMedSupply started manufacturing and distributing eco-friendly hospital items. The focus was to deliver zero waste products that don’t jeopardize the sanitation standards of a hospital.
They successfully made gowns, gauze, medical containers, sharps, and bedpans for hospitals. Since they’re not made of typical plastics, they won’t sit around in landfills or wind up harming our oceans.
A Recycled Ward in Taiwan
There is a hospital in Taiwan that’s using a first-ever recycled modular unit. It can be set up to act like an ICU, general ward, or isolation ward. It’s assembled with interlocking pieces, all of which are upcycled from previously discarded materials.
It’s very mobile and able to be set up in less than 24 hours. Everything included is medical grade. This example is incredible because it shows the power of upcycling. Aluminum cans and PET plastic gets upcycled and turned into a modular, medical-grade ward that can be reused.
After the success of this first prototype, the expectation is to see more of these wards created in the future.
Using EnviroPouch in the Operating Room
How does a hospital operate sustainably while keeping the patients and doctors safe? One option mentioned earlier was reusing material, but there is a big hazard when you try to reuse something that was exposed to human blood, waste, and tissue — it can seriously harm the next patient that it’s used with and can even result in death.
A company called EnviroPouch found a solution to this issue. They create dental sterilization pouches that can be reused. It uses steam to sterilize the pouch between uses. Rather than throwing it out after a single-use, these pouches can be used a minimum of 200 times.
This idea saves money, cuts down on storage space, and removes excessive waste. Having a product like this in the operating room is another step closer to zero waste living within a hospital.
Looking at NewGen Surgical
In the recycling space, NewGen Surgical’s name gets floated around. Their business model is built around manufacturing and designing products for hospitals that are sustainable.
Since 2012, they’ve been creating products that use up to 69% plant-based material. These products were previously made of plastic and metal, like a skin stapler. By using plastic alternatives for hospitals, plastic waste can drop, and energy used in manufacturing will also reduce.
As they continue to redefine medical instruments, hopefully, other companies follow their lead. Overall, the best way to achieve sustainability in a hospital is to use alternative materials to plastic.
The Future of Sustainability
The idea of sustainability is relatively new. As you just saw, there are plenty of examples where companies are doing their part to help hospitals cut down on their waste.
If sustainability becomes a staple within operating rooms across the world, we’ll see a sizable decrease in plastic waste. This means a cleaner Earth for all of us. If you want to read more about the future of sustainability, you can see other solutions we offer at Miniwiz.