A new policy campaign at the Helsinki University Central Hospital (Hyks) aims to make the operating rooms of the Meilahti hospital the most ecological in Finland by the end of next year.
Every year more than 90 tonnes of mostly plastic surgery waste is produced at the hospital. Hyks development chief and MD Sinikka Münte says she is appalled by the rampant wastage, even as society at large becomes more aware of the global hazards of unchecked plastic garbage.
"It's weird that people are expected to recycle diligently at home, but that large facilities just throw everything out," she says.
Cardboard, glass, metal and biological waste is routinely recycled in Finnish operating theatres, and many instruments are sterilised for reuse. But no hospital's maintenance infrastructure can match the sheer volume of plastic trash, Münte says.
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Even unused instruments binned
Suppliers deliver disposable medical equipment such as catheter sets to hospitals pre-assembled, with the intention of including as many useful items in the package as may be necessary.
The big downside to this is that everything in the pack has to be discarded once the set is opened – whether or not each instrument was actually used in surgery or not.
Hospital instruments are mostly plastic. Old metallic kidney dishes have given way to disposable plastic containers that end up being thrown away. Even the scissors in the set are disposable, and end up in metal recycling after a single use.
"The price has to be one of the main reasons for this," says Münte. "Apparently plastic is cheaper to use in these implements, which used to be metal or cardboard. There was a time when most instruments needed for central catheters and anaesthesia were simply sterilised and reused."
A new, highly ecological catheter set is currently in development and is to be introduced in autumn. Uusimaa Hospital District environment centre developer Jani Valkama points out, however, that sets such as these account for only a fraction of the dozens of tonnes of waste. Indeed, the more efficient sets are just the beginning.
"We'll start off by making these instrument sets better, and then move on to other things such as developing waste management, recycling anaesthesia gas canisters and using long-lasting textiles instead of throwaways for operating table sheeting," Münte says.