Sustainability in Disposable Medical Device Design
Hospitals generate a tremendous amount of plastic waste. According to the health care sustainability organization Health Care Without Harm, healthcare organizations contribute 4.4% of all global CO2 emissions. Much of this carbon footprint comes from the production and disposal of single-use plastic devices.
Sustainability in disposable medical device design requires that design services consider new materials and methods of production and delivery. Reducing emissions and plastic waste can be a joint effort between healthcare systems, manufacturers, and local governments.
A Comprehensive View
People must examine all aspects of production, transportation, and disposal to identify areas where recyclable or recycled materials could substitute for existing materials that currently contribute to excess waste. Foam packaging, for example, might be replaced with plant-based materials that can be recycled like paper.
Sustainability and Safety
There is an unavoidable tension between safety and sustainability in life science device design. Single-use plastic devices are critical to infection control. Personal protective equipment (PPE) often contains plastic materials. Strict single-use regulations protect patients and health care workers from needle-stick injuries and associated infections. Manufacturers face the challenge of devising methods of production and disposal that carry a lower environmental cost.
Medical waste is hazardous and can cause dangerous contamination through improper disposal. Currently, many organizations utilize incineration for disposal, but the process can generate noxious and carcinogenic emissions. However, incineration may be the only option for infectious waste. People can install filtering systems to reduce toxic emissions.
Tons of clean, non-infectious plastic waste could be recycled. The most used plastic in disposable medical equipment is PVC. PVC can be recycled more than once without reducing its usefulness. Newer types of plastic are under consideration for use in disposable medical devices. Design changes that make devices smaller, or that incorporate parts that can be disassembled, sterilized, and reused, are additional options for some medical devices.
Other ways to reduce emissions and waste in the manufacturing process include reducing energy consumption, conserving water, and using fewer chemicals. New methods of creating prototypes, like 3D printing, laser welding, and computer-assisted design reduce waste that would otherwise occur through multiple iterations. Examining the supply chain for opportunities to reduce emissions and considering different types of packaging could also be ways to increase sustainability in disposable medical devices.