Sustainability in the medical space? It’s complicated

PlasticsToday reports on how sustainability in healthcare is not as simple as it seems.

“”The juggernaut to remove single-use plastics from our lives largely has spared the medical sector. There are good reasons for that, starting with improved safety for the patient because single-use devices reduce the risk of infection. Also, injection molded and extruded plastic devices allow for design innovation and lower cost compared with metal devices. An article in National Geographic gives another, rather odd, reason why the medical space has been relatively immune to the anti-plastics crusade: “Unlike refusing a straw at a restaurant, it’s difficult to cut down on plastic while strapped unconscious to an operating table,” writes Sarah Gibbens. Maybe I’m just not environmentally woke enough, but that is the not the first—or second or third—thought that would cross my mind under those circumstances, even if I were conscious.

PlasticsToday has reported on past initiatives to recycle medical plastics in hospital settings, principally involving packaging and other items that were not exposed to patients or contamination. The outcomes generally were problematic. One article that comes to mind recounted a project spearheaded by the Plastics Industry Association and the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council in 2017, which concluded that properly sorting recyclables in intense hospital environments was “fraught with difficulty and that the economic value was not sufficient in the current climate.””