Green Operating Rooms Benefit Bottom Line and Environment

06/04/2012 |

Green operating rooms may save dollars, lives, and the environment.

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."


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