George I’ons discusses the impact of the single use on the environment and highlights some potential solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of disposable medical devices.
As the largest employer in Europe and one of the largest employers in the world, the National Health Service is a vast organisation which requires considerable volumes of goods and services to function. Consequently, the NHS is responsible for 4% of England’s total carbon footprint,1 with a significantly higher percentage of plastic waste compared to other industries. The complexity of infection control means that only about 5% of this plastic waste is being recovered.2 In 2020, for instance, the need to urgently control COVID-19 infection rates led to increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which tends to be made of plastic material and is intended for single-use only. By July, health and social care services in England were already set to surpass PPE distribution in the whole of 2019.3 This unavoidable increase in plastic waste, exacerbated by the use of single-use face masks among the wider population, has raised greater awareness of the need to improve waste management in the medical industry.
The traditional method of medical device disposal is incineration, which must increasingly become a last resort due to the environmental damage caused by the process. However, it must be noted that, where incineration cannot be avoided, there are strict European regulations limiting clinical waste emissions,4 and the UK will now need to set its own limits. Additionally, there are innovative solutions available to contain impact to the environment, such as sophisticated filtering systems which can help to prevent toxic fumes from polluting the atmosphere.
Maintaining safety standards
Log in or register FREE to read the rest
This story is Premium Content and is only available to registered users. Please log in at the top of the page to view the full text.
If you don't already have an account, please register with us completely free of charge.