Claire Teves, a surgeon from the Philippines serving the poorer sector, decided to pay a six-month visit to Singapore to explore the knowledge gap and face challenges in working at a wealthy medical facility. However, on her arrival, something else caught her attention. She was shocked to see the hospitals producing the amount of healthcare waste for every patient.
In the operation theatres, the staff disposed of medical devices, like plastic retractors, after treating every patient. However, in her hospital, the scenario was quite different. They used to make the best out of every tool; sterilize and use it till they are damaged.
On seeing such mishandling of medical products and increasing healthcare waste, Claire stood up and decided to do something. With discretion and help from the hospital staff, she was able to collect all the one time used medical devices in a bag to reuse it in the Philippines before it became a waste.
The effect of mismanagement of healthcare on the environment is a hot topic. Hong Kong-based cardiologist Ryan Ko asserts that it is normally pleasant to talk about environmental footprint and medical care. However, as a doctor, things become different. They need to first prioritize patients health and needs before anything else.
Even Teves agrees that her motive behind it was to first help the patients rather than focusing on sustainability.
Can Recycling Medical Waste Save Expenditure on Healthcare System?
According to the non-profit organization Health Care Without Harm, if healthcare had been a country, it would be the fifth among all polluting the environment with most greenhouse gas emissions.
Ko says it is difficult to look over the environment when it comes to the safety of the patient. Even though many people are now considering single-use tools as safe but it is not always true, says Tony Capon.
Taking an example of PPE, doctors at the frontline emphasize the need for single-use plastics to avoid spread infectious diseases like COVID’19. Only 15% of healthcare waste is hazardous and toxic. While 85% of it is more similar to the waste at home or work.
This healthcare waste is gloves to examine non-infected patients or used food containers. Here it is 85%, of healthcare waste where costs can be cut.
Single-used disposables cost much more than the devices that need regular maintenance to prevent the spread of infection or damage. Neurosurgeons at a very well known Canadian hospital saves expenditure of CA$750,000 ($570,000/£430,000) by cutting off the use of disposables by 30%.
The nurses at London’s Great Ormond Street hospital realized and started reminding staff to wash their hands instead of using non-surgical gloves, like for nursing babies. It helped them save 21 tonnes of plastic and £90,000 ($120,000).
Are Practices in the Healthcare System Polluting Climate Health?
By opting for cost-saving practices and reducing the carbon emission and healthcare waste, the savings can be invested back into the healthcare system.
The Boston Medical Center in the US, uses solar energy from solar farms, to make a saving of $25m (£19m). The Cleveland Clinic was able to reduce 19% of energy and save $50m with investing in 15 energy-certified buildings.
Meanwhile, other hospitals like The University of Washington Medical Center, are using more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways by buying food from local farmers to provide organic food to patients and paying customers.
Many other potentially harmful gases bring global warming 2000 times more than carbon dioxide. For instance, operating theatres use anesthetic gases like desflurane, sevoflurane, and nitrous oxide. Since the patient only uses 5% of it, the rest of it vents out as healthcare waste. To reduce emissions to some extent, researchers suggest using gas-capture technology that has canisters to trap unused anesthetics.
Cohen asserts that health now means working on the cause that is making people ill and not only treating the sick patients.
Note: Claire Teves’s real identity not revealed in the story.