CHICAGO – The total annual waste generated by a single, large academic endoscopy unit over 2 months could cover about two football fields, according to Madhav Desai, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. About 20% of the waste, most of which went to landfills, was potentially recyclable, he said in a presentation given at the annual Digestive Disease Week® meeting.
Gastrointestinal endoscopies are critical for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of a variety of gastrointestinal conditions. But like other medical procedures, endoscopies are a source of environmental waste, including plastic, sharps, personal protective equipment (PPE), and cleaning supplies, and also energy waste.
“This all goes back to the damage that mankind is inflicting on the environment in general, with the health care sector as one of the top contributors to plastic waste generation, landfills and water wastage,” Dr. Desai said. “Endoscopies, with their numerous benefits, substantially increase waste generation through landfill waste and liquid consumption and waste through the cleaning of endoscopes. We have a responsibility to look into this topic.”
To prospectively assess total waste generation from their institution, Dr. Desai, who was with the Kansas City (Mo.) Veterans Administration Medical Center, when the research was conducted, collected data on the items used in 450 consecutive procedures from May to June 2022. The data included procedure type, accessory use, intravenous tubing, numbers of biopsy jars, linens, PPE, and more, beginning at the point of patient entry to the endoscopy unit until discharge. They also collected data on waste generation related to reprocessing after each procedure and daily energy use (including endoscopy equipment, lights, and computers). With an eye toward finding opportunities to improve and maximize waste recycling, they stratified waste into the three categories of biohazardous, nonbiohazardous, or potentially recyclable.
“We found that the total waste generated during the time period was 1,398.6 kg, with more than half of it, 61.6%, going directly to landfill,” Dr. Desai said in an interview. “That’s an amount that an average family in the U.S. would use for 2 months. That’s a huge amount.”
Most waste consists of sharps
Exactly one-third was biohazard waste and 5.1% was sharps, they found. A single procedure, on average, sent 2.19 kg of waste to landfill. Extrapolated to 1 year, the waste total amounts to 9,189 kg (equivalent to just over 10 U.S. tons) and per 100 procedures to 219 kg (about 483 pounds).
They estimated 20% of the landfill waste was potentially recyclable (such as plastic CO2 tubing, O2 connector, syringes, etc.), which could reduce the total landfill burden by 8.6 kg per day or 2,580 kg per year (or 61 kg per 100 procedures). Reprocessing endoscopes generated 194 gallons of liquid waste (735.26 kg) per day or 1,385 gallons per 100 procedures.
Turning to energy consumption, Dr. Desai reported that daily use in the endoscopy unit was 277.1 kW-hours (equivalent to 8.2 gallons of gasoline), adding up to about 1,980 kW per 100 procedures. “That 100-procedure amount is the equivalent of the energy used for an average fuel efficiency car to travel 1,200 miles, the distance from Seattle to San Diego,” he said.
“One next step,” Dr. Desai said, “is getting help from GI societies to come together and have endoscopy units track their own performance. You need benchmarks so that you can determine how good an endoscopist you are with respect to waste.”
He commented further:”We all owe it to the environment. And, we have all witnessed what Mother Nature can do to you.”
Working on the potentially recyclable materials that account for 20% of the total waste would be a simple initial step to reduce waste going to landfills, Dr. Desai and colleagues concluded in the meeting abstract. “These data could serve as an actionable model for health systems to reduce total waste generation and move toward environmentally sustainable endoscopy units,” they wrote.
The authors reported no disclosures.
DDW is sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and The Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract.
This article originally appeared in GI and Hepatology News.
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