When Jodi Sherman first started working in hospitals, she was struck by the amount of plastic used on a daily basis. She wondered how single-use plastics could be consistent with the Hippocratic oath’s first principle to “do no harm.”
“It’s clear that these materials come from somewhere and they go somewhere and they must be causing harm,” says Sherman, an anesthesiologist at Yale New Haven Hospital and founding director of the Program on Healthcare Environmental Sustainability at the Yale Center for Climate Change and Health.
But not all of her colleagues and patients see it that way, since plastic is an embedded feature of patient care. According to the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council, 20–25% of all hospital waste in the United States is plastic—amounting to more than 1 million tons annually.
This wasn’t always the case—plastic’s prominence in hospitals dates back less than 100 years. But during the postwar plastic boom of the 1940s, medical professionals seized on its utility.
“The temptation for mass one-use disposal was irresistible,” says Robert Friedel, professor emeritus of history at the University of Maryland. . .
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