Why We Need To Reduce Single-Use Plastics In Healthcare?

How Much of a Problem Is Plastic Medical Waste?

Hospitals use plastics in a variety of ways from disposable plastic syringes to surgical devices. Single-use plastics were viewed as an attractive option in healthcare as they allow for maintenance of a sterile environment and any infected plastic material can be easily disposed of. Yet the sheer quantity of single use plastics used in hospitals is becoming alarming, which is why it’s important that hospitals adopt strategies that encourage the reduction of single use plastics going forward.

This is a worldwide issue as the AAMC found that globally 4.4% of all greenhouse gas emissions and over 5 million tonnes of waste come from hospitals[1].  The NHS creates 133,000 tonnes of plastic annually with only 5% of it being recyclable[2]. To tackle this issue in October 2020 in the UK, the NHS announced  its “For a Greener NHS[3] campaign which aims to significantly reduce healthcare systems carbon footprint and the production of plastic waste to become the first net zero healthcare system in the world.

How to Reduce Single-Use Plastics in Hospitals

Single-use plastic is used in many departments throughout healthcare mainly for infection control purposes, sometimes it can be difficult to cut out completely. The most logical method of reducing medical plastics is to tackle the areas where it is easiest to reduce plastic waste.

Thermometry is one area where plastics could be significantly reduced. As temperature measurement is a core diagnostic tool, thermometers are used in every hospital, on every ward for every patient, every day. There are a variety of medical-grade thermometers available in the marketplace. However, contact thermometers (tympanic, axilla, rectal, etc.) require single-use disposable plastic probe covers to reduce the infection risk presented by physical contact.

World Leaders Join Together as The Climate and Health Agenda Gains Momentum

With the COP26 commencing recently, world leaders are set to discuss strategies that are directly affecting climate change. The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare has called on all world leaders to ensure all healthcare systems are Net Zero by 2040 and to fund infrastructure for the transition to environmentally sustainable healthcare systems. This includes collaboration with all players in the supply chain to de-carbonise medical devices. Reducing plastic medical waste is an essential strategy.

A 900-bed hospital takes around 2-3 million temperature readings per year, that’s 2-3 million single-use probe covers to dispose of. Reducing single use medical plastics means making changes to take steps in the right direction, so healthcare systems can reduce the effect they have on the global climate crisis.

In summary, reducing single-use plastics in healthcare globally is an essential element to healthcare systems achieving a Net Zero status, as it is a significant contributor to emissions.

Technology that can advance healthcare forward is already available for clinical use, such as the TRITEMP™ non-contact thermometer which uses zero consumables.

To find out more about how you can reduce single-use plastic waste in your hospital please contact info@trimedika.com.


[1] https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/hospitals-race-save-patients-and-planet

[2] https://nhsproviders.org/news-blogs/blogs/not-so-fantastic-plastic

[3] https://www.england.nhs.uk/greenernhs/

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