Engineering 101

How Healthcare Harms the Planet

A knee replacement creates nearly 30 pounds of waste, and almost half of that is biohazardous materials that require a great deal of energy to treat for safe disposal. Cataract surgery releases 400 pounds (181.8 kilograms) of carbon dioxide.

Healthcare accounts for 10% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions, and operating rooms generate 20-33% of hospital waste. All of this environmental impact seems to go unnoticed… until now.

A research team at the University of Pittsburgh has started tracking healthcare’s impact on the environment, particularly orthopedic surgery, which is exceptionally high-impact.

Surgical suites rely on single-use, disposable products such as gowns, gloves, packaging, and even the instruments the surgeons use. 

While researchers are just beginning to look into the environmental effects of healthcare, they are confident the field can improve and work toward a circular economy.

A circular economy focuses on reducing material use and recapturing those materials for re-use. 

The paper, “Environmental Sustainability in Orthopaedic Surgery” (DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-21-01254), is available in the Journal of the AAOS.

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