Sustainability and safety: the role of medical practices
Disposables in medical settings and managing medical waste
Let’s start by saying that using disposable products in a medical setting is absolutely essential to ensure that infections are under control during everyday check-ups and operations. Therefore, as it stands, we cannot stop using all disposable materials in medical and dental practices without compromising the protective protocols provided for patients and operators.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that these frameworks produce considerable amounts of plastic waste and non-recyclable material each day. So, what can we do?
First of all, we should bear in mind that this waste is considered contaminated and must therefore be treated in accordance with appropriate procedures to prevent damage to health and/or environmental problems. Among the main occupational risks for operators, biohazards are some of the most significant. Correctly managing contaminated waste is absolutely essential to reduce the risk of infection for operators and patients who work at or visit the practice.
Disposal of medical waste
In dental and other medical fields, environmental awareness and compliance with the rules governing the disposal of medical waste—rules that prioritise health and safety—must go hand in hand. In order to avoid inconvenient contamination, facilities should implement well-defined procedures that comply with legal standards.
A number of studies have highlighted that, in medical settings, around 15%-20% of waste is considered hazardous and must therefore be disposed of in accordance with relevant legal standards. Disposable materials that have come into contact with bodily fluids must be considered potentially infected, and must therefore be dealt with in line with legally defined procedures.
What can dental practices do for the environment?
In every single dental practice, conduct, procedures and equipment used daily can make all the difference, contributing to sustainability and improving the efficiency of the facility itself. With this in mind, good management requires you to:
1. use a thermodisinfector to clean instruments. This device enables you to microdose detergent, control your water consumption based on load, and clean and disinfect instruments using temperature rather than chemical agents. In addition, according to average consumption data, a modern thermodisinfector uses one tenth of the water for the same load as manual washing does;
2. prioritise purchasing a water treatment system to supply autoclaves, ultrasonic tanks and other machinery, rather than purchasing jugs of distilled water;
3. choose machinery with a low environmental impact in terms of energy and water use. When purchasing an autoclave, it’s always worth checking how many Watts and litres of water are consumed per cycle;
4. separating paper from plastic film in sterilisation rolls and pouches. Even after use, packaging material used in the sterilisation process is not considered hazardous waste and can therefore be disposed of in an appropriate way, by throwing paper into paper waste bins and plastic film into containers for dry non-recyclable waste;
5. choose products whose origin is certified as pollution is also caused by the manufacturing process and/or use of raw materials. For example, it is important to ascertain that paper used to manufacture products and packaging is FSC or PEFC-certified, and that plastic used for saliva ejectors is phthalate-free, in order to minimise the environmental impact of the whole product life cycle and, at the same time, reduce risks for patients and operators;
6. sort packaging materials for waste collection, ensuring that boxes, plastic films and other materials are recycled. This is very important as packaging—primary and secondary—can account for up to 30% of all product waste;
7. prioritise the digitalisation of your practice (e.g. using digital x-rays, software for traceability management instead of paper, etc.);
8. know exactly what types of waste are produced and to implement a strict separate collection procedure for non-hazardous waste. This will prevent hazardous waste and other waste from mixing, so that the amount of material taken to the incinerator is minimised;
9. choose a supplier whose electricity comes from renewable sources, given that medical and dental clinics are equipped with a large number of electrical appliances, some of which are energy-intensive;
10. carefully select suppliers of disposable materials, ensuring that you are informed about manufacturing methods, material origin and the company’s ethical and environmental profile.
Medical procedures and greater environmental awareness
The challenge facing dental practices is to balance compliance with established medical procedures with greater environmental awareness.
If systematically implemented, the measures listed above enable us to focus, not only on optimising operational flow, but on reducing consumption, rewarding good practices and reducing pollution through valuable choices as well, with the ultimate aim of safeguarding and protecting the well-being of individuals and the environment that surrounds them.