Greening the Operating Room by Producing Less Waste

By: Alexandra Salerno and Cristina Mestre

As much as 30 percent of the waste generated by hospital systems, including surgical instruments, cotton sheets and disposable plastic equipment, comes from the operating room (OR), according to recent studies. That’s why many hospitals across the country are taking a closer look at what waste is produced during surgical procedures and implementing best practices to reduce it. 
Last year, for example, a study at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMCfocused on whether a Cesarean section or vaginal birth is “greener.” The study introduced the life cycle assessment (LCA) tool to quantify the environmental impacts of a vaginal delivery in a labor and delivery room and a C-section birth in an operating room. LCA is a full evaluation of the environmental impact of a process or product, from beginning to end.
For the study, researchers took on the daunting task of assessing the act of childbirth rather than a product.
When it comes to labor, it is easy for patients to overlook the large amount of items that must be disposed of following delivery. These items differ depending on whether a woman has a C-section or a vaginal birth. Plus, researchers had to asses energy use such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, along with physical waste for both procedures.
So what is greener? Vaginal birth, according to the study’s lead author, Noe Copley-Woods, M.D.  By knowing what produces the most waste following delivery (and other procedures), Magee and other hospitals can target these processes to reduce overall environmental impact. Just yesterday, Magee hosted the first ever greening the OR workshop, where experts from throughout the health care system came together to discuss ways to make their practices more sustainable – and the benefits of doing so. 

Hospitals across the U.S. are reducing their OR footprints with the help of Practice Greenhealth, a national organization dedicated to improving the health care sector through the development and implementation of environmentally friendly practices.  

The organization’s “Greening the Operating Room Initiative” is helping hospital systems reduce their environmental impact by providing toolkits that include checklists for hospitals to consider all of the products and processes that go into an operation. This September, Practice Greenhealth  hosts the first annual “Greening the OR” symposium – a forum for sharing best practices and innovative ideas.