How Are Medical Devices Making Consumers More Environmentally Conscious?
The medical industry doesn't have the best track record when it comes to environmentalism. However, some healthcare companies are changing that.
- By Jenna Tsui
- Mar 02, 2020
Sustainability isn't the job of a single person, business or industry. It's going to take a collaborative effort to combat the effects of climate change and move toward a better future for the environment. You don't have the sole responsibility to save the planet.
Preserving the environment requires a system of accountability. The public needs to hold industries to a high standard for their environmental impact, and companies need to provide people with the means to live sustainably.
The medical industry doesn't have the best track record when it comes to environmentalism. The U.S., Australian, Canadian and English medical sectors collectively contribute 748 million metric tons of emissions every year. However, some healthcare companies are taking steps to reduce that.
On top of cleaning up their own operations, these companies are providing ways for consumers to go green. The makers of medical devices are leaning into sustainable accountability to help you become a more environmentally conscious consumer. Here are a few of the ways medical devices are helping people do that.
Offering Up Transparency
One of the ways medical device manufacturers are creating eco-conscious consumers is by being transparent about their materials and processes. Many companies don't publicize aspects of their manufacturing to hide their unsustainable practices. By opting for transparency, manufacturers tell consumers exactly what they're supporting when they buy certain products.
MedTech Europe has taken up a policy of full material declaration, meaning it's open about all the materials found in its products. Manufacturing giant Siemens has also adopted a substance transparency policy as part of their broader "Product Eco Excellence" program. These declarations allow you to see not just the elements that are in these products, but how much of them.
This information allows you to understand the ecological impact of each device better. In turn, you become a more knowledgeable consumer.
Providing Recycling Options
Traditionally, medical devices come in disposable plastic packaging. These packages are cheap and convenient, but they aren't the most eco-friendly thing on the planet. This waste can endanger animals and cause pollution, and recycling some materials can be a complex process most people can't do on their own.
Albumin, a protein used to replace lost fluids, usually comes in bulky glass bottles, but Baxter has started shipping it in flexible plastic packaging. The new packages use substantially less material, leading to less waste. The smaller mass allows recycling plants to dispose of it faster and more easily.
Some companies, like Roche Diabetes Care, offer services to help recycle their product packaging. The Swiss company's insulin pump tubing comes in Tyvek plastic, which needs specialists to recycle correctly. By providing customers the means to send their packaging to a recycling center, they can make sure the materials don't end up in a landfill.
Bringing HealthCare Home
Not every hospital visit is an emergency. Regular checkups and physicals are an essential part of living a healthy life, but frequent trips to the doctor come at a cost. Most people don't drive zero-emissions vehicles, so every time they operate their car, they release harmful exhaust fumes into the air.
You should be seeing a doctor, but you also should try to keep your emissions in check. Modern devices allow you to do both. With the help of telemedicine equipment and services, you can conference with healthcare professionals without leaving home.
These devices allow you to consult a doctor about any number of issues from the comfort of your couch. That way, you minimize your emissions by leaving your car in the garage.
Even if a product is efficient, buying it may not be as green a practice as you might think. The manufacturing process across all industries is notorious for generating emissions and waste, so purchasing a new product of any kind may be harmful to the environment. Cleaner methods of production are helping solve that problem.
Researchers are looking into 3D-printed artificial organs, which increase sustainability. Since 3D printing adds material instead of cutting it away, it's generally a more eco-friendly manufacturing method.
3D-printed medical implants may seem like something out of science fiction, but it's not a distant possibility. These printing techniques are already widespread, and researchers are getting closer every day to accurately replicating body tissue. By offering these devices, companies can help consumers make environmentally conscious purchases.
Waste management is one of the biggest challenges facing eco-friendly initiatives. People tend to throw things away, often carelessly, instead of reusing or recycling them, leading to crowded landfills. Even if they do, an influx of disposed-of items can back up recycling plants.
These issues wouldn't be as prevalent if products were usable for longer periods, which is precisely what medical device manufacturers are pursuing. By creating devices that consumers can use for longer, these companies reduce the frequency at which their products get thrown away. This longevity leads to less pollution and a more manageable workload for recycling plants.
Promoting Eco-Friendly Behavior
If nothing else, medical device manufacturers are fostering eco-friendly consumers by promoting sustainable practices. Conferences like CleanMed showcase the ways healthcare companies are going green, inspiring other businesses and individuals to take similar steps in their work and lives. If you know a medical device brand is environmentally friendly, it may incline you to look for sustainable brands elsewhere, too.
These green practices demonstrate that corporations and people alike can live sustainably. By arming people with means and knowledge to go green, medical device makers can guide consumers toward an eco-friendly future. Unfortunately, the sustainability question of how we can build a cleaner earth is not just a medical industry problem, and it’s not one that a person can tackle alone. It's an issue for every person, company and government today.
Jenna Tsui is a Texan journalist who co-owns The Byte Beat blog. She writes about the latest news in sustainability, culture, technology and more. Check out her work on TBB or follow her on Twitter @jenna_tsui .