What Is a Zero Waste Medical Device?

What Is Zero Waste?

The term “Zero waste” is becoming recognised as global warming puts increasing pressure on our environment. The term Zero waste is one we must all heed; it applies to every aspect of our lives. Living a zero-waste lifestyle refers to your activities at home or in the workplace; it means striving to use as little single-use plastic as possible and consciously seeking out sustainable alternatives[1]. Reducing plastic, especially harmful single-use plastics is a significant factor in our collaborative fight to protect our planet.

Healthcare’s Waste Problem

Healthcare is a significant contributor to global CO2 emissions. The NHS creates 133,000 tonnes of plastic annually; only 5% of this waste is recyclable[2]. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, healthcare budgets were already under  strain. The pandemic immediately created additional pressures on the healthcare in so many ways, not least in regard to waste management. PPE or Personal Protection Equipment- the masks, hazmat suits, gloves, aprons and single-use plastic caps used in temperature measurement (not an exhaustive list) has cost governments around the planet billions. Designed for one-off use only for infection control purposes, these plastic products leave a drastic legacy.

In recognition of the need to fight climate change  NHS trusts are now required to devise a Green Plan in the march towards Net Zero. The Green Plan details their approach to decreasing waste and meeting Net Zero carbon targets in mind. Governments around the globe have declared a climate crisis and the need for healthcare systems to work towards Zero waste has become critical. This is a worldwide issue, as the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recently reported that 4.4% of all greenhouse gas emissions; over 5 million tonnes of waste come from hospitals[3] in the US alone.

A survey conducted across four Mayo Clinic locations across the United States found that single-use plastics made up at least 20% of medical waste generated in US hospitals[4].

Zero Waste and a Circular Economy

Currently healthcare operates mainly within a linear economy; materials and resources are used from the Earth to make products and eventually throw them away as waste. This is a linear process. In a circular economy, we stop waste being produced in the first place and where possible, loop the resources back in to be used to get the maximum value out of both the biological and technical cycle with the aim to move towards producing zero-waste. The pillars of the circular economy are:

•            Eliminating waste and pollution

•            Circulate products and materials (remanufacturing)

•            Regenerate nature[5]

What Is a Zero Waste Medical Device?

Medical waste is an inevitable by-product of healthcare. Unlike refusing a straw at a restaurant, it’s difficult for healthcare to cut down on plastic; healthcare is a sector where the individual i.e. the patient has the least influence on how plastics are used. However, single-use plastic is facing more scrutiny than ever.

Whilst it is undoubtedly challenging for hospitals to reduce waste to a Net Zero level quickly,  this goal must be at the heart of sustainable healthcare activities. Through smart procurement and systematic implementation of technology that is designed with sustainability in mind, hospitals can incrementally develop the journey towards eliminating plastic waste.

The NHS has moved towards improving the sustainability of the healthcare system by following the principles of Value Based Procurement (VBP). VBP aims to drive sustainable increased savings whilst improving patient outcomes. Here, there is a shift in emphasis from a reduction in product costs to working with the healthcare industry to consider technologies that can influence a reduction in total costs within the patient pathway. Collaboration with SMEs is a key part of this to unlock and make innovation available to those tasked with delivering improvement in healthcare.

The VBP approach will combine with the concept of delivering on the 5 key themes of Social Value in procurement:

  • Fighting Climate Change
  • Wellbeing and supporting Staff
  • Equal Opportunity
  • Tackling Economic inequality
  • COVID 19 recovery[6]

How can TRITEMP™ Reduce Healthcare Plastic Waste and Help with Fighting Climate Change?

TRITEMP™ is a medical-grade non-contact thermometer that requires zero consumables, implementation of TRITEMP™ will positively impact the reduction of single use plastic and assist hospitals in achieving their carbon reduction targets.

Many hospitals are still using contact thermometers that require a single use plastic probe cover each time a temperature is taken; this will amount to significant waste from single-use plastic. Single-use plastic was introduced as a mean to assist with the control of infection for devices which make direct contact with patients. However, times are changing since single-use probe covers first appeared. The environmental crisis we all face now has put the daily use of plastic probe covers under the microscope; can we still continue along path when there are better ways to, for example, measure temperature that do not impact the planet and give better patient outcomes? Over 1.4% of supply chain emissions are due to single-use devices, some of which could be refurbished and reused, saving the NHS both carbon and money[7].

A 900-bed hospital takes up to 3 million temperature readings per year. That’s 3 million single-use plastic probe covers used, about the same volume as a double decker bus. This process repeated across thousands of hospitals globally impacts the environment greatly, and change is needed now. Small changes combine to make big differences and we all need to understand and implement better alternatives. to achieve zero waste.

Watch our sustainability video below:

FAQ’s

What is a zero waste medical device?

A Zero waste medical device like TRITEMP™ reduces plastic waste where possible and reduces the hospital’s negative effect on the environment. TRITEMP™ saved approximately 300 million plastic caps from going to landfill in 2021.

What does Zero waste mean?

The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health[8].

References

1. https://www.unisanuk.com/what-is-zero-waste-and-the-zero-waste-movement/

2. https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/12/08/the-plastic-pandemic-could-the-environmental-impact-of-the-nhs-response-to-covid-19-be-reduced/#:~:text=The%20NHS%20disposes%20of%20around,of%20England’s%20total%20carbon%20footprint.The%20plastic%20pandemic:%20could%20the%20environmental%20impact%20of%20the%20NHS%20response%20to%20covid-19%20be%20reduced?%20-%20The%20BMJThe%20NHS%20disposes%20of%20around%20133,000%20tonnes%20of%20plastic%20each%20year,%20but%20only%20about%205%%20of%20it%20is%20recovered.%20The%20recently%20published%20Delivering%20a%20%E2%80%9CNet%20Zero%E2%80%9D%20National%20Health%20Service%20document%20[…]More…blogs.bmj.com

3. https://nhsproviders.org/news-blogs/blogs/not-so-fantastic-plastic

4. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200813-the-hidden-harm-of-medical-plastic-waste-and-pollution

5. https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/circular-economy-introduction/overview

6. https://www.executivecompass.co.uk/blog/social-value/an-overview-of-the-social-value-model/

7.  https://www.england.nhs.uk/greenernhs/wp-content/uploads/sites/51/2022/07/B1728-delivering-a-net-zero-nhs-july-2022.pdf

8. https://zwia.org/zero-waste-definition/

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