BY PAUL R. BARACH, et al.
Economic and environmental sustainability are essential to maintaining high-quality health care. Numerous medical innovations have demonstrated that modern cardiovascular care is in constant flux. But health care’s increasing predilection for single-use oil-based plastics and metalware is unsustainable in the long run.
Health care providers tend to be isolated in their specialized domains, with a limited understanding of the full process, the complexity, and the broader implications of how daily health care practices impact the environment. Sustainable solutions will enable cardiologists not only to make sound clinical decisions and provide safer procedures but also to address the growing economic and environmental challenges faced by today’s health care systems.
…Process of Reducing and Reusing
Operating room (OR) waste is obvious and increasing, so OR recycling has received the most attention of all sustainability initiatives to date. Separation of infectious waste from general waste is the integral first step to using recycling to reduce financial and environmental costs in the OR. General waste can thereafter be diverted to various recycling streams such as cardboard and paper, metals, non-polyvinyl chloride (non-PVC) plastics, and PVC plastics.
Other sustainability initiatives aimed at reducing or reusing OR items are less frequently encountered, perhaps because they meet resistance from the manufacturers and purveyors of disposable items. Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) can help illuminate the financial and environmental costs of products, but for various reasons, they have typically not been performed in health care. LCAs usually incorporate the entire “footprint ” of an item and include 1) raw materials acquisition; 2) processing and manufacturing; 3) distribution and transportation; 4) use, reuse, and maintenance; 5) recycling; and 6) waste management. LCAs allow for comparisons between similar products (such as single-use versus reusable items), which can make for a more informed choice based on sustainability parameters such as financial costs, CO2 emissions, waste usage and pollution, and fossil fuel and mineral usage. For example, a recent LCA of anesthetic drug trays found that the addition of even small amounts of cotton to the trays consumes relatively large amounts of energy and water…