Considering greening operating rooms? A new analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows cost savings and reduced environmental impact without compromising patient care.
Operating rooms produce approximately 20%-33% of all waste in hospitals, and much of this waste is subjected to specialized high-energy processing which is expensive and has negative environmental and health impacts. Figures from 2007 indicate that US health care facilities contributed 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions and disposed of more than 4 billion pounds of waste, making the sector the second-largest producer of landfill waste after the food industry. In 2008, Canadian hospital activities were the second most energy-intensive activity, consuming the energy of 440,000 homes.
Greening operating rooms at a glance:
- Separating waste into normal waste and biohazard or medical waste streams, as the latter requires high-energy processing, and training staff to differentiate. An estimated 50%-80% of normal waste is disposed of as hazardous waste.
- Investing in closed collection systems to discharge liquid waste into sanitary sewers, which reduces the amount of waste needing high-energy treatment.
- Using smart monitors to reduce energy use when operating rooms are vacant.
- Partnering with medical equipment companies to promote greener packaging; a major contributor to waste is plastic packaging.
- Donating unused equipment to developing countries.
- Reprocessing single-use devices to make them suitable for reuse.
- Exploring alternative disposal methods to incineration, which is responsible for significant emissions of dioxin and furan in Canada.
- Creating environmental stewardship staff teams to promote and coordinate greening activities.
“A single operation may produce more waste than a family of four produces in a week," states the analysis.
"Operating rooms pose a particular challenge to waste management because of the need for absolute sterility," write the authors. "Fortunately, technologies and waste-reduction strategies have emerged that satisfy the 'triple bottom line' (people, planet and profits), by reducing health care costs and environmental effects without compromising patient care."