Do single-use medical devices containing biopolymers reduce the environmental impacts of surgical procedures compared with their plastic equivalents?

Scott R. Unger, Troy A. Hottle, Shakira R. Hobbs, Cassandra L. Thiel, Nicole Campion, Melissa M. Bilec, Amy E. Landis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-225
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Health Services Research and Policy
Volume22
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1066658, 1553126, 1246547, 0504345). Shakira Hobbs was supported by an IGERT-SUN fellowship funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1144616) and EREF Doctoral Scholarship.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2017.

Keywords

  • Bioplastics
  • Hysterectomies
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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