In the healthcare industry, Practice Greenhealth found that American hospitals produce 5.9 million tons of waste each year.  In an effort to be more green, a 2012 Commonwealth Fund study estimates if energy-saving practices were implemented nationwide, the healthcare sector would see about $1 billion in net savings after five years.  Operating rooms specifically were found to use disposable instead of reusable products, use blue wrap without recycling it, and throw out pre-packaged tool sets.

 In recent years some hospitals have begun reprocessing non-critical single-use devices, like pulse oximetry finger probes, to save the hospital money. Reprocessing  involves the medical organization contracting with a reprocessor who picks up the non-critical devices, examines them and determines which ones can be sterilized and re-used. The ones that can be re-used are then sold back to the hospital at lower cost than what the hospital would pay for a brand-new device, Kaplan (research assistant professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, and a researcher in the study) said.  “There are two areas of cost savings in that activity, one is that you are paying less for the items you are purchasing and the other is you are reducing your waste and the costs associated with waste disposal for those items.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that medical devices that are being reprocessed and re-used must meet the same requirements and standards as the original manufacturer’s product, according to the FDA website. This means that reprocessing firms must be registered and list all their products as well as “submitting adverse event reports, tracking devices whose failure could have serious outcomes, correcting or removing from the market unsafe devices, meeting manufacturing and labeling requirements,” the website states.

Environmental responsibility can improve fiscal sustainability of the healthcare industry, “We’re very concerned with improving health in this country and this is something sustainability can do and we’re also interested in saving money, especially as health costs continue to rise,” Kaplan said. “This area of study puts both of those priorities together.”

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