60-Second Science

Recycling Some Hospital Waste (Not the Really Gross Kind)

A study in the journal Academic Medicine shows that millions of dollars and pounds of refuse can be saved by recycling some medically related waste that often gets thrown away without even being used. Cynthia Graber reports

The food industry leads the nation in pounds of waste produced annually. So, what’s second? It’s health care facilities. They dispose of more than four billion pounds of waste each year.

Another shocker? A lot of that waste is perfectly functional. In fact, it hasn’t been used at all. For instance, many surgical devices may be removed from packaging, but not used in an operation. They still get thrown away.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins [led by Martin Makary] discuss the waste problem in the March issue of the journal Academic Medicine. [See] They say that 25 to 40 percent of equipment can be safely reused via what’s called reprocessing. The materials need to go through careful treatments, such as cleaning, sterilization and, at times, remanufacturing. But the study’s authors say that following reprocessing, there’s no difference in safety and sterility.

In fact, Hopkins has already saved about a half-million dollars by reprocessing. And Banner Health in Phoenix, also mentioned in the study, saved $1.5 million and vast amounts of waste. The researchers conclude that reprocessing offers a way for hospitals to reduce waste and costs. Something that, in the current healthcare debate, should appeal to everyone on both sides of the political aisle.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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