Hospitals go green

By Carrie Johnson • Published: May 27th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Every year, hospitals throw away thousands of gowns, towels and cutting tools after just one use. In fact, in operating rooms, items are discarded even if they haven’t been used because their packages were opened and they may have been contaminated. As a result, medical centers are the second-largest waste producers in the U.S., second only to the food industry.

This is all done in the name of proper sanitation. But the result is literally tons of waste. Now some institutions are re-thinking their use-once-and-throw-it-away policy. Recycling, when done carefully and correctly, can save hospitals millions of dollars each year while helping the environment.

Researchers recently published an article in the journal Academic Medicine arguing that it is safe to re-use equipment as long as proper sterilization, recalibration and testing procedures are followed. In fact, the researchers say the U.S. Government Accountability Office has backed up their claims.

Among the items that can be safely sterilized and re-used are elastic bandages, tourniquet cuffs, surgical scissors, drills and compression sleeves. The trend is already catching on: More than twenty five percent of American hospitals have started reprocessing single-use medical devices, the study showed. In two-thousand eight alone, those hospitals saved a combined one-hundred and thirty-eight million dollars and saved four point three million pounds of trash.

Of course, the used devices must be rigorously tested. But the study showed that no patient safety problems have been recorded as a result of re-use.

Now, if they could just find a way to make those hospitals gowns a little less revealing.