How Much Rubbish is Generated in an Operating Room?

Written by on December 6, 2020 in Stuff with 0 Comments

In virtually any setting, the topic of waste reduction is something to which we are all continually growing more attuned. As awareness of the damages being wrought by excess rubbish making its way into oceans and landfill begins to spread, we are growing ever more critical of our own habits – both at home, and in the workplace – and seeking new ways of mitigating the impact we have on the environment.

The story is the same for those working in surgical settings, although working to diminish the amount of rubbish created during a day’s worth of surgical procedures is incredibly difficult – much harder than it may be for other settings, where sterility and precision do not pose such great concerns to those creating the waste.

A recent waste audit conducted on five knee arthroplasties performed in Canada, for example, found that an average of just over 13kg of waste was produced as a result of each procedure. Very little of this waste was able to be recycled, which is indicative of one of the most significant waste management issues posed to the medical field: non-recyclable materials may be worse for the environment but, in general, they offer undisputable benefits to ensuring the success of the procedure.

Over the last three centuries in particular, the amount of waste being generated within the operating room has continued to grow – though this increase does come out of necessity. Read more below.

Why Does Surgery Produce So Much Waste?

Since the early days of medicine, procedures have generated plenty of waste – particularly as germ theory took hold, and prompted us to utilise many resources only designed for single use. Where, once upon a time, a surgeon may have operated without any PPE, today’s surgeons will never undergo a procedure without disposable latex or nitrile gloves, masks, disposable gowns, and shoe coverings – all of which, of course, generate biohazardous waste that must be thrown away.

Similarly, many of the tools used throughout the course of a procedure must offer the sterility and precision that is only available when they are fresh out of their kits. While stainless steel can be sterilised after a procedure, for instance, medical-grade plastic and silicone remain the better options for certain tools, such as the surgical retractor. Creating the perfect amount of tension, for instance, requires a stretchy material – something stainless steel cannot do so well.

Equipment used for maintaining a sterile field must also be disposed of following the procedure. Drapes and sterile tray liners cannot be reused without putting the next patient at significant risk from a wide range of infections.

The global medical community is continually sourcing and innovating new tools that increase surgeons’ abilities to work around past limitations, and to ensure that procedures can be carried out safely, effectively, and with the best possible results.

Waste reduction remains key to mitigating our global impact on the environment, but the solutions available to the medical community remain much more limited than they are for other industries.

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