Disposable and single-use devices (SUDs) have become more popular in the medical industry as an effort to reduce hospital-acquired infections, after the increase in fears of blood-borne pathogens like HIV, Hepatitis, or more recent viral diseases such as Covid-19.
While reducing waste in the healthcare system is an important objective that must not be neglected, safety in healthcare environments is a critical priority.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States reports about one in 25 U.S. hospital patients is diagnosed with at least one infection related to hospital care each year and highlights more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, with more than 35,000 resulting deaths.2 Across the world, parenteral and other invasive devices are, therefore, strictly regulated to help reduce the risk of infection. They typically contain single-use, disposable plastics to achieve this objective”. (Brusco, 2021)
This tension between sustainability and bloodborne disease infection control is now as topical as ever, especially while the priority to contain the coronavirus continues. An immediate concern for the healthcare space is to provide sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare workers (and their patients), which is frequently made of plastic material and tends to be single-use only.
The challenge is then to work within the single-use-device business model to increase sustainability and reduce costs, while still protecting people, planet, and profits.
So, how can a single-use medical device like NAD WARTENBERG PINWHEEL, be sustainable?
When considering medical device sustainability, often people think about the end of the lifecycle. Is the medical device recyclable? Is it reusable? What are the costs and environmental impacts associated with disposal? But managing waste streams is only one aspect of medical device sustainability. Building sustainable medical devices rest on an understanding of the full product lifecycle and must commence at the very beginning of their conception: the design phase. This is where 80% of sustainability decisions are made. These early decisions will have the biggest impact on device sustainability.
As a medical device manufacturer, NAD Pinwheel Inc. has been working for quite some time to respond effectively to the increasing demand for environmental sustainability from the market, while at the same time protecting the safety of healthcare workers and device users. Here are some of the pathways we have taken to improve our single-use Wartenberg Pinwheel’s sustainability:
Device Design: Thoughtful design and engineering can reduce the amount of materials required. We have reduced the overall dimensions and weight of the product by minimizing the size of the Wartenberg Pinwheel handle while still maintaining ergonomics. Reducing component dimensions means material optimization, waste reduction, process simplification, and eventual disposal impact reduction. NAD Pinwheels have minimal components and are easy to disassemble, facilitating recycling and making the process cheaper.
Material Selection: We manufacture all our pinwheel components in the same recyclable plastic material so that it’s easier to recycle at the end of the lifecycle.
Packaging Selection: Our NAD Pinwheels are packed in recyclable bags and distributed in cardboard boxes of 100 units and 36 units to optimize transportation and distribution.
The hidden side of reusable devices: Are they really that sustainable?
Sustainability must identify opportunities to reduce carbon emissions, energy use, water use, and material waste across the entire lifecycle of the device. Decisions made at each stage of the lifecycle impact the overall sustainability of the device.
For reusable medical devices, sterilization is vital for adequate reprocessing and reusing throughout hospitals, clinics, and medical practices. However, studies have repeatedly shown that the high levels of energy consumption from sterilization required (often higher than incineration) can result in reusable devices with a higher carbon footprint than their disposable equivalent, and certain sterilization substances can be damaging to the environment themselves, requiring specialized disposal.
“For example, in the U.S. 50 percent of all sterile medical devices are sterilized with ethylene oxide. However, since this method releases harmful emissions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now encouraging the development of new methods or technologies to reduce dependence on this substance.7 Similarly, a study in BioProcess International found the energy consumption of a stainless-steel pharmaceutical powder handling machine, after factoring in cleaning and sterilization, reached 8,018 megajoules (MJ) of energy. In contrast, the process of manufacturing and disposing of single-use powder handling devices reached 4,156 MJ”. (Brusco, 2021)
Sterilizing devices for reuse may seem like a feasible alternative, however, it has proven environmentally unsustainable.
As we continue to cope with the pandemic, the importance of preventing the spread of infections has never been more stressed. At the same time, reducing waste and harmful emissions is an issue needed to be addressed. Reducing the impact of disposable products is the first step towards a more sustainable medical devices industry and, rest assured NAD Pinwheel Inc. is always committed to making a significant and positive difference in sustainability and patient protection.
Join us in the journey to sustainability and shop NAD Pinwheels here: https://www.nadpinwheel.com/shop
Brusco, S. (2021, June 1). Medical Product Outsourcing Magazine. Retrieved from Medical Product Outsourcing: https://www.mpo-mag.com/issues/2021-06-01/view_columns/single-use-yet-sustainable-three-steps-to-tackle-environmental-responsibility/