Time to redirect focus? Health care sustainability all about recycling

Time to redirect focus? Health care sustainability all about recycling

This week we've pulled up the health care sustainability conversation on social media over the last month. The top 25 phrases mentioned in social media posts suggest a focus on recycling at the root of the health care sustainability initiative - a focus that encourages reactive thinking rather than proactive solutions or addressing other issues under the health care sustainability umbrella.


Code Green is a health care sustainability newsletter: as such, we track for conversations across a wide range of topics: recycling and plastic waste, carbon footprint and emissions, toxics in medical devices commonly used in the health care system, etc. The bulk of conversation, seen by the words frequently popping up in discussion, is directed toward recycling.

This could be due to the massive influx of single-use plastics due to the coronavirus pandemic: hospitals are a) using many more disposable items than previously to tamp down viral spread and b) experiencing overwhelming influxes of patients due to the pandemic that only further increase disposables usage. This reality has left problem-solvers wondering how to slow the use of plastic in the health care industry: innovative solutions are on the global docket.

Carbon emissions show up as the second-most talked about element of health care sustainability. As the health care sector does emit a sizable percentage the global carbon output, this focus is not surprising. We've seen news in the previous weeks and months from hospitals reducing their individual carbon footprints or pledging to do so by a certain year: this is another facet of health care sustainability with solutions well underway.

Returning to plastics and recycling, what we're missing is the more proactive side of the problem: what are we doing about reducing our use of plastics in hospitals in the first place? And, more specifically, where is the conversation about the chemicals in those plastics that studies are showing impact patient health and ultimately can cause more health problems?

Many of the studies we've shared in the Top Science section of Code Green stress the impacts of endocrine-disrupting compounds in medical devices on the health of patients. We know endocrine-disruptors have made it into the public eye: BPA and synthetic fragrances are commonly discussed in "green" circles and in consumer markets, a trend toward "natural" products remains steady. So why aren't we adding medical products to the conversation? Products such as IV catheters have the potential to give those chemicals a direct pipeline into a patient's bloodstream. The health care sustainability community is missing a key opportunity to bring these issues to toxic-conscious communities expanding across social media.

This all to say: there is more to health care sustainability than recycling. If the results of these top 25 phrases strike a chord with you, consider sparking new conversation online around one of the facets of health care sustainability that currently resides in the shadows.

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