Sustainability In Healthcare: Setting the Standard in a Wasteful Industry

Sustainability can be defined as ensuring a balance between the environment, equity, and economy for the sake of current and future generations.
And yet, a 2015 study by a Johns Hopkins research team revealed that major US hospitals throw away at least $15 million in unused operating room supplies. This “waste” is made up of perfectly good, sterile, and usable supplies that could otherwise be collected and used elsewhere. If those supplies were funneled to those who need them, this would help reduce the carbon footprint that medical waste produces.
It has been clear for a long time that the healthcare industry is highly wasteful, which contributes to the high cost of healthcare in the country. Many in the healthcare industry have started taking baby steps towards going green, but there is still a lot to do if hospitals become sustainable.

What Does Sustainability Mean in this Context?

Waste in healthcare organizations has a high environmental and economic impact, which is where the study of sustainability should start. It is true that some of the waste generated, such as “red bag” waste, is only fit for disposal, but 85% of this waste is non-hazardous.

Sustainability means focusing on waste reduction and identifying that some of this waste can be upcycled back into the marketplace, responsibly recycled, or otherwise safely disposed of for the sake of the environment. More importantly, this has to happen without impacting the quality of care or using up a lot of resources. 

It is not easy for healthcare administrators to balance environmental, financial, and patient care concerns in the name of sustainability. However, it can be done; some of the greenest hospitals in America help save the environment by tackling food waste, plastic waste, and disposables.

Sustainability in Healthcare is Understandably Tough

Healthcare is a very complex and interconnected industry. Even the logistical concerns are immense, especially when you consider the measures to ensure safety quality at all levels. Thus, it is understandable that most of the effort is invested in inpatient care, which leaves sustainability as a secondary concern.

However, environmental sustainability shouldn’t be an afterthought but a value woven into every process in a healthcare institution. For example, issues with surplus and unused supplies can be efficiently dealt with before becoming a waste disposal problem.

Hospitals and other medical institutions need to realize that sustainability isn’t just an environmental concern, but an issue that significantly affects their costs. What is needed now is a way to incentivize administrators to look at strategies to go green and benefit the environment at the same time.

Some Strategies for Environmental Sustainability

A good strategy for healthcare organizations to introduce more sustainable practices is to start with the easiest waste reduction methods. Such low-hanging fruits to going green will produce fast outcomes and provide the momentum needed to tackle bigger issues without impacting patient safety.

A study published in ScienceDirect highlights that operating rooms and obstetrics units generate 70% of hospital solid waste, with most of it being disposable supplies. The Johns Hopkins study referenced above-identified unused surgical supplies such as gauze, disposable syringes, sutures, and surgical towels as being among the top contributors to this waste.

There are several possible sustainability initiatives to tackle waste reduction in a healthcare setting:

Recycling

A large portion of all medical waste comes from operating rooms and 20 to 40% of that waste can be recycled. Making efforts to recycle this waste will greatly impact the total amount of waste a hospital produces annually.

Upcycling

This is why upcycling unused supplies is a sound strategy for many institutions. It could allow them to save money while saving the environment, providing a two-fold benefit that could provide the momentum needed for hospitals to get into the green movement.

Energy Efficiency

Invest in energy-efficient equipment to help reduce the amount of energy the hospital utilizes each day. Every piece of energy-efficient medical equipment helps to reduce the hospital's carbon footprint as well as its operating costs.

Surgical Product Solutions Can Help

Routinely selling unused supplies could have a significant economic and environmental impact if implemented successfully. At SPS, we buy unused, in-date surgical supplies from hospitals across the country and provide them at lower prices to facilities that can utilize them. We do this without compromising product integrity or introducing undue processes.

Our business model is founded on sustainability in an inherently wasteful industry. We help hospitals and surgical centers eliminate their unused disposables and other supplies and make the same accessible where there is higher demand.

Ultimately, upcycling helps reduce the waste ending up in landfills and provides more cash in hospitals to help them run and reinvest in critical infrastructure. Visit our homepage to learn more about how our services can help you achieve a more sustainable supply chain today.

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