Even prior to the upheaval caused by COVID-19 throughout the year 2020, and at least the first half of 2021, it was clear to individuals and global corporations alike that embracing a sustainable philosophy and gradually eschewing those practices which directly or indirectly harm the environment is not a linear process. Rather, it is one that will take one step backward for every two or three steps forward.
For the individual, while remembering those reusable shopping bags may, by now, be habit, there are still those instances where they are forgotten. For the business world, replacing one dependency often gives way to a new one – mostly, of course, as a result of the ongoing struggle to balance financial values with sustainable ideals.
In the medical world, however, the indirect nature of a sustainable incentive is exemplified. By virtue of the industry’s unparalleled centrality throughout the 2020 pandemic, any capabilities or potential to take significant strides forward into a new, green landscape were dashed.
Now, however, as we move gradually closer to a ‘new normal’, will the path be clear enough for us to invoke a new standard for sustainability within the hospital? Read more below.
When we consider the limitations posed to the hospital, it is easy to focus too keenly on the limitations posed by the rise of COVID-19. One of the most notable examples of this lies, of course, in the hospital’s unparalleled reliance on disposable PPE – both for personnel, and for patients and visitors – throughout the virus’s spread. The results made themselves known almost instantaneously, with PPE invading oceans and landfill across the globe, although this was accepted as a necessary evil not only for the medical world, but for humanity at large.
This is, however, only half the story. There are plenty of instances where a hospitals’ ability to function, thrive, and best support patients relies on practices that do not fit with the standard model for sustainability – and these instances were already taking place within hospitals across the globe prior to COVID-19.
It is in the OR that the most notable examples can be detected. The use of medical grade plastics that cannot be reprocessed (i.e., sterilised and reused on another patient) within surgical procedures has proven crucial to its ability to support the needs of the surgeon, and the best interests of the patient.
Plastic is malleable and far more easily wielded than reusable metals and glass. The surgical retractor was once unwieldy, and required the assistance of additional personnel; now, with medical grade plastic, it can act as an unwavering support to the operating surgeon, rather than a hindrance that remains a necessity.
Areas Open to Change
As such, any move toward sustainability that is, in and of itself, sustainable will be devised under realistic expectations of a ‘sustainable hospital’. It will not seek to impose blanket change across every area; rather, it will focus on those areas where single-use can be replaced safely and successfully with reusable alternatives, and on those areas where non-recyclable waste can be reduced without placing more burden on personnel, or the patients themselves.
There are myriad ways in which hospitals can better embrace sustainability, provided they have space and resources to pursue it, and a discerning approach that leaves alone those areas that stand on the precipice of patient safety. Certain tools can be reused, certain materials are fit for recycling, and a greater level of awareness for the environment can be instilled – but never at the expense of medical progress.