Journal of Health Services Research & Policy
Background: While petroleum-based plastics are extensively used in health care, recent developments in biopolymer manufacturing have created new opportunities for increased integration of biopolymers into medical products, devices and services. This study compared the environmental impacts of single-use disposable devices with increased biopolymer content versus typically manufactured devices in hysterectomy.
Methods: A comparative life cycle assessment of single-use disposable medical products containing plastic(s) versus the same single-use medical devices with biopolymers substituted for plastic(s) at Magee-Women’s Hospital (Magee) in Pittsburgh, PA and the products used in four types of hysterectomies that contained plastics potentially suitable for biopolymer substitution. Magee is a 360-bed teaching hospital, which performs approximately 1400 hysterectomies annually.
Results: There are life cycle environmental impact tradeoffs when substituting biopolymers for petroplastics in procedures such as hysterectomies. The substitution of biopolymers for petroleum-based plastics increased smog-related impacts by approximately 900% for laparoscopic and robotic hysterectomies, and increased ozone depletion-related impacts by approximately 125% for laparoscopic and robotic hysterectomies. Conversely, biopolymers reduced life cycle human health impacts, acidification and cumulative energy demand for the four hysterectomy procedures. The integration of biopolymers into medical products is correlated with reductions in carcinogenic impacts, non-carcinogenic impacts and respiratory effects. However, the significant agricultural inputs associated with manufacturing biopolymers exacerbate environmental impacts of products and devices made using biopolymers.
Conclusions: The integration of biopolymers into medical products is correlated with reductions in carcinogenic impacts, non-carcinogenic impacts and respiratory effects; however, the significant agricultural inputs associated with manufacturing biopolymers exacerbate environmental impacts.
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