Researchers from Johns Hopkins Hospital say that health care costs can be reduced if hospitals implement strategies to reduce their carbon footprint. Health care facilities produce an enormous amount of waste – around 6600 tons per day – that’s the equivalent of more than four billion pounds per year. Only the food industry produces more waste.
Operating rooms and labor-and-delivery suites together, the researchers say, account for nearly 70 percent of hospital waste.
Reporting in the February issue of the Archives of Surgery, the Johns Hopkins team said hospital operating rooms notoriously open sterilized equipment that is never used, install energy-sucking overhead lights and fill red bags that are labeled as medical waste with harmless trash that could be more cheaply disposed.
“There are many strategies that don’t add risk to patients but allow hospitals to cut waste and reduce their carbon footprints,” says study leader Martin A. Makary, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “If we’re going to get serious as a country about being environmentally conscious, we need to look at our biggest institutions. 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.”
In the past, health care experts have resisted going green, saying that what is best for the environment may not be best for patients. But the Johns Hopkins researchers found there are many ways for hospitals to go green without comprising patient care. Some of the findings include:
- Washing and reusing surgical scrubs
- Recycling equipment that previously had been thrown out after one use like laparoscopic ports and durable cutting tools
- Changing routine for taking items out of sterilized packaging during surgery to make sure only items needed are removed)