Why Making Surgery More Eco-Friendly Will be an Uphill Battle

Why Making Surgery More Eco-Friendly Will be an Uphill Battle

There has been a great deal of momentum building within the sustainability movement, particularly in recent years as the true toll of our modern ways of living continues to be pushed to the fore. It has been extremely comforting to bear witness to mankind’s incredible propensity to change when change is needed, and to the incredible ways in which individual have applied their particular skillsets to innovating new and improved ways of living alongside, rather than against, the planet.

From our everyday shopping habits to the ways in which mass food production takes place, people from all walks of life, all disciplines, and all backgrounds are working to make their fields more attuned to the needs of the environment.

There remains, however, one significant area of life in which eco-friendliness remains an incredibly tricky subject. In the medical world – and, in particular, within the surgical branch – tempering reliance upon single-use plastics, and mitigating waste generation, is far more difficult than it is in almost any other walk of life.

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Why is Sustainable Surgery so Tricky?

In any operating room, whether it is a routine procedure or a groundbreaking new venture, the safety of the patient, and the viability of the procedure itself, remain the priorities. Even the best surgeon in the world will see a devastatingly low success rate if hygiene and accuracy are not supported by the most failsafe measures possible.

Take the surgical retractor as a prime example. This device has been in existence for decades (in various forms), but it is only relatively recently that the design was perfected – both in terms of hygiene, through the use of medical-grade single-use plastic, and in terms of its ability to support the surgeon throughout the procedure.

Modern designs featuring cam locks, the ability to self-retain, and fully adjustable lights ensure that the call for additional personnel within the operating room is minimized and that the surgeon can gain as clear a view as possible.

Here, plastic is vital. Creating the right amount of tension for self-retention requires a stretchy material, which means that commonly reused materials such as metal and fiberglass are out of the question. As a result, ensuring sterility for each patient means that these devices can be used only once before they are discarded – and, due to the necessity for precision and retraction during surgical procedures, that single-use remains a necessary factor in this particular instance.

The same notion holds true for a wide range of other resources deployed within the operating room. From PPE such as face masks to highly specialized tools and implements, the scope for moving beyond single-use and embracing eco-friendly alternatives remains limited within the world of surgery.

Here, the necessity for precision and hygiene continues to eclipse any call toward sustainability, and it seems highly unlikely that the need for plastic within the OR will diminish in the coming years. In accordance with the momentum of the sustainability movement in recent years, we can anticipate plenty of innovations – even within the medical world – but, until then, we must accept surgery as a phenomenon that, in some cases, must work against the tide of eco-friendliness for now.