Home E-Weekly March 1, 2011

Envisioning the Environmentally Friendly OR

Published: February 28, 2011

Surgical facilities that adopt environmentally mindful practices could cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint without risking patient care and safety, say Johns Hopkins researchers.

Their study, published in the February issue of the journal Archives of Surgery, recommends 5 strategies: separating biohazardous, conventional and recyclable wastes; reprocessing single-use devices; purchasing with sustainability in mind; consuming energy wisely and reducing pharmaceutical waste.

"If we're going to get serious as a country about being environmentally conscious, we need to look at our biggest institutions," says Martin A. Makary, MD, MPH, associate professor of surgery at the university's medical school and the study's lead author. "When an individual decides to recycle or dispose of waste differently, it has an impact. But when a hospital decides as an organization to go green, the impact is massive."

Dr. Makary's team reviewed 43 studies covering hospitals' efforts toward sustainability and consulted with experts to develop practical environmental solutions. The healthcare industry generates more than 6,600 tons of waste per day, the team's report notes, with ORs and labor and delivery suites making up 70% of that total.

In calling for change, the report points to several practices that are not only environmentally wasteful but also avoidably expensive, such as discarding non-hazardous refuse with red-bag trash, opening sterilized supplies for a case that go unused, and installing energy-inefficient lighting. The researchers admit that reprocessing single-use devices often presents a perceived conflict between sustainability and patient safety, but can satisfy both concerns and save money at the same time.

David Bernard

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