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The Single-Use Plastic Problem in Healthcare: 4 Strategies for Reducing Waste

Visit any hospital, dental practice or pharmacy, and you’ll find abundant plastic products, from syringes and catheters to disposable gowns. Many of these items are single-use, meaning they’re used just once and promptly discarded. Single-use plastic can have detrimental consequences for the environment.

single-use plastic problem in health care

Curbing plastic pollution and minimizing waste have become key sustainability initiatives in the medical industry. These strategies can help healthcare providers meet their goals and lower their carbon footprints. 

1. Procure Plastic Items Responsibly 

Reducing healthcare plastic waste begins at the purchasing stage. Healthcare facilities can make a positive change by investing in innovations designed to negate the need for plastic. 

For example, consider traditional contact thermometers, which come with single-use plastic probes that require replacing after every temperature reading. An average hospital takes around 2-3 million temperature readings yearly, resulting in 2-3 million single-use plastics disposed of annually. Switching to noncontact thermometers solves this problem entirely. 

2. Implement Recycling Programs

An astonishing 90% of plastics produced don’t get recycled. This plastic waste typically ends up in landfills or the ocean, both of which cause environmental harm. Incineration is also a go-to method for dealing with discarded plastic, but all the burning contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, making it an unsustainable option. 

Recycling is one of the best ways healthcare facilities can reduce waste. Rather than throwing away single-use plastics, your facility can set the items aside and make them available for repurposing. Recycling programs can be challenging to implement, since most hospital waste falls under the biohazardous materials category. However, certain items like saline bags, cafeteria utensils and administrative equipment can be recycled. 

3. Reduce Plastic in Packaging

The packaging of single-use plastics is a huge source of waste. Packaging is responsible for 33% of all garbage in the United States, underscoring the need for medical device manufacturers to adopt more sustainable alternatives. 

For example, if something is designed to be used just once, producers might prioritize packaging it using biodegradable wrapping or materials derived from nonpetroleum sources. These alternatives are less likely to end up in landfills and even the ones that do will probably be recyclable. It’s a win-win. 

4. Adopt More Green Solutions

The reality is plastic remains one of the most versatile and practical materials for medical use. It shouldn’t really come as a surprise the industry relies on it to provide quality patient care, especially because it’s cheap and readily available. In many cases, single-use plastics are necessary because reusing them poses significant health risks. 

So, while the use of these items may be unavoidable, hospitals can instead offset their carbon footprint by adopting greener solutions in their daily operations. These include improving building-wide energy efficiency, integrating solar power and prioritizing equipment made from recycled materials. 

Plastic Pollution Is a Global Health Threat

The sheer quantity of single-use plastics used across healthcare organizations worldwide is enough to warrant a change. Once considered impossible, the notion the oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050 is edging closer to reality. 

Getting facility buy-in is the key to driving industry-wide change. Healthcare leaders and policymakers must make minimizing single-use plastic and related waste a strategic priority. The environmental impact of reducing waste is obvious, but action is needed to warrant sweeping changes, especially from a business perspective. 

An additional benefit to minimizing plastic waste is the significant cost savings. For example, UCLA Health saves around $450,000 yearly by replacing disposable plastic isolation gowns with reusable ones. 

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

The obligation of healthcare professionals to do no harm extends beyond the doctor-patient interaction. After all, it’s impossible to stay healthy in an unhealthy environment. By reducing reliance on single-use plastic and improving waste management, the industry can lower its carbon footprint and promote a more sustainable future.

The post The Single-Use Plastic Problem in Healthcare: 4 Strategies for Reducing Waste appeared first on Biofriendly Planet | For a Cooler Environment.

By: Mia Barnes
Title: The Single-Use Plastic Problem in Healthcare: 4 Strategies for Reducing Waste
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Published Date: Tue, 30 Apr 2024 13:19:12 +0000

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