Device firms among those looking to solve "garbage problem"

The New York Times notes in a story this week that the healthcare industry suffers from a "garbage problem." Mountains of trash include unused disposable medical devices, as well as used--but recyclable--supplies and equipment, from excess syringes and gauze to surgical instruments.

The problem has been fueled by a shift toward the use of disposables that made it simple to keep treatment practices sterile. No organization tracks how much medical trash the U.S. produces, but in the early 1990s, the figure was estimated at two million tons annually. However, industry is now taking a closer look at the mount of trash it generates.

"We've just seen a sea change," says Cecilia DeLoach Lynn, director of sustainability education at Practice Greenhealth, a Reston, VA-based non-profit that counts Johnson & Johnson, Hospira and GE among its members. Industry is increasingly turning to interventions like reducing use of materials, recycling and donating leftover but still usable items to developing nations.

The NYT's report comes months after Johns Hopkins researchers published a commentary urging U.S. hospitals to adopt more green policies, including the reprocessing of such medical equipment as laparoscopic ports and durable cutting tools, to reduce the environmental and financial costs of waste disposal. Their commentary was published in the March issue of Academic Medicine. Although lingering safety concerns have slowed the adoption of reprocessing, researchers have been hard-pressed to find evidence that it actually harms patients.

- read the NYT article