Week 4 – Healthcare Waste: The Re-Use Illusion

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Uncategorized
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It is common knowledge that in today’s society, there are more pressures for individuals and businesses to recycle. Sustainability has now become a big issue and we are constantly reminded (sometimes by guilt) to think about the impact of our actions on the environment. That said, what if in doing this, we are doing more harm than help?

An article in the December 2008 issue of Private Hospital magazine raises the issue of how what we instinctively think is the more environmental product is actual worse for the environment. The article stresses how we have to look at the bigger picture in our actions- for example, the use of porcelain cups could be more harmful to the environment compared to using plastic cups when factoring in detergents, the use of hot water and the amount.

The article highlights the idea of life cycle assessments- how they are needed to fully understand the facts of how environmentally friendly a product or process is. This forces us to see past the “environmentally friendly” label and truly assess the impact of a product in terms of it’s life cycle- from the cradle to the grave. This is an especially important issue in health care: does the use of a re-usable product justify the amount of chemicals and energy used to treat the product? Is it better for the environment if you simply opt for the disposable product? Certainly these issues are important to consider when running hospitals with a high capacity. St. Vincent’s Hospital in my group’s area of Darlinghurst for example, comes to mind as it is an important landmark in my assigned street.

Is it really better for the environment?

These considerations are not so obvious as consumers tend to take the environmentally friendly label for granted. It is important to assess the product in context, from production to its end life. Next time you reach for the reusable bag, perhaps stop and ponder about the energy and resources needed to create the product.


References:

Private Hospital  2008, ‘Re-Use or Single-Use: Making the Decision, Private Hospital, December 2008, p. 65

The Scanlon 2007, soapbox.SUPERSTAR, viewed 31/08/2010<http://www.thescanlons.net/weblog/index.php?/weblog/making_nice_with_the_environment/&gt;

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