Finding Sustainability is Medical Manufacturing

Sustainability in manufacturing is dominating the manufacturing world, as companies work to reduce,
reuse and recycle in any way that they can. The reusable products sector that provides shipping
equipment is one solution that continues to take a foothold. Redesigning plants for better use of space
(and reduction of energy) is another. Many companies are even looking into ways to incorporate
renewable resources in providing energy for the plants. Unfortunately, one sector still remains sluggish
in the sustainable area. The medical manufacturing industry is working on ways to meet sustainability
standards without compromising the most important factor in their business—patient safety.


The medical manufacturing industry isn’t intentionally bucking the sustainability trend. In fact, there
are several studies in the works to find more environmentally friendly practices in the manufacture of
medical devices and pharmaceuticals. The efforts all end at the nosocomial infection risk that increases
each time a medical device reused.

Nosocomial infections are those that originate in the hospital. The pathogens carried by patients
coming through the hallways can cause harm to those who recently received surgery or have
compromised immune systems. These pathogens are easily spread when a device or tool is reused
without proper sterilization. Hospitals have used a highly effective sterilization method in the autoclave
for more than a century. However, plastic and other nonmetal objects are destroyed in the autoclave.
It also uses a lot of energy and manpower to operate. The alternative to the autoclave and solution for
nosocomial infection was disposables.

Sustainability in manufacturing is dominating the manufacturing world, as companies work to reduce,
The disposables are cheap to make as many are made of plastics and paper. They are quick to use
as well. The first disposable medical item was the latex glove, developed in 1964. Today, doctors
have pre-filled syringes and other dispensers that deliver a one-time dose to the patient. Yes, the
number of nosocomial infections have reduced, but the amount of waste has increased exceedingly.
Approximately 90 percent of medical device waste is disposable products. Several thousand tons of
waste from disposables alone populate our landfills, as a result of the effort to reduce infection.


First, the industry must admit that the disposable device is necessary for the modern medicine. The
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.7 million people contract nosocomial
infections each year. More than a 100,000 of these patients died from those infections. There is no way
around the progressive need for infection reduction methods. However, the industry can reduce in other
ways to help eventually reach sustainable practices.

The company Farm Design Inc. came up with one way to keep disposables and also reduce waste.
Their new trocar (which is a device used to insert instruments into the abdomen during laproscopic
surgery) is a hybrid of disposal and reusable components. The entire device designed by the Farm is
made is metal with a disposal plastic tip. The metal is re-sterilizable, while the tip must be replaced
with each use. In turning what was once an 100 percent plastic device into a 90 percent metal one, the
company saves in freight costs, fuel and waste, as one metal trocar uses 1,500 uses. More work is being
done to make hybrids out of other medical devices.

The problem is infection and the solution seems to hybridization. It seems that in medical
manufacturing, as in automotive manufacturing, hybrids are primed to save the industry and the

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