Healthy Debate

Source: Wendy Glauser, Jeremy Petch & Sachin Pendharkar, Healthy Debate

It’s something that a patient who is worried about a surgery or recovering from a trauma is unlikely to think about. But behind the scenes, plastic syringes, single-use gowns, sterile packaging, surgical instruments and much more are piling into dumpsters.

According to a new report from the Ontario Hospital Association, North American operating rooms alone are responsible for 20%-33% of total hospital waste.

The problem may be getting worse – due to patient safety, cost and convenience, more and more clinical instruments and supplies are being marked as “single use” and thrown out.

Disposables can also be cost-driven. They’re sometimes cheaper than buying much more expensive reusable supplies that must be washed and are themselves thrown out with wear and tear…. In many other cases, however, disposables are more expensive in the long run.

In the US, several organizations are calling for more environmental products. Earlier this year, four major health care companies and two NGOs launched the Greenhealth Exchange, an organization that will investigate and promote green alternatives.

In addition, this September, the non-profit Practice Green Health is launching a free “total cost of ownership tool” that will help hospitals understand the long-term costs of disposable versus reusable products. The tool allows hospitals to enter everything from the costs they pay to dispose waste, to how often they’ll need to repurchase disposables, to the costs of water for sterilization. “If you look at just the price tag for the item, disposables seem far cheaper. But by capturing some of the cost to use the product over the long term, you’re making a better informed purchasing decision,” explains Beth Eckl, director of the Environmental Purchasing Program at Practice Greenhealth.


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