Dedicated professionals in many industries, from dental and medical to cleanroom manufacturing, have been working to establish company cultures that put the health and safety of their staff and the environment at the forefront. This includes adopting and promoting “green” technology, products and initiatives that contribute to a healthier world and workforce.
According to the Eco-Dentistry Association, green dentistry means reducing waste and pollution, saving water, energy and money, going high-tech and supporting healthy lifestyles.
Here in the U.S. upwards of 1.7 billion sterilization pouches and 680 million patient barriers are dumped by dental offices each year. Green practices in the dental office include replacing chemical-based and toxic cold-sterilization with steam sterilization methods using FDA-registered reusable pouches and wraps. Switching to cloth lab coats and reusable cloth patient barriers also helps cut down on waste.
About half of all mercury entering wastewater treatment facilities comes from dental offices. Installing an amalgam separator in the office can keep mercury out of our drinking water, irrigation and fishing waters. By switching to digital imaging, other toxins can be eliminated, such as traditional x-ray fixing chemicals and lead foils.
If a product must be disposable because of its nature, such as gauze, gloves and depression trays, these products are increasingly available in recycled or high-count packaging, or are made from biodegradable, compostable material.
Environmentally Friendly Medical
Medical facilities are committed to improving the health of their patients, employees and communities. Leading the way, Kaiser Permanente launched their Sustainability Scorecard in 2010, a first of its kind green purchasing model. The Scorecard helps them evaluate the environmental and health impacts of the more than $1 billion in medical products they purchase each year, as well as the companies they purchase them from.
Another major focus in the medical industry is recycling and reprocessing devices for safe reuse. Hospitals are the second-largest waste producers in the U.S. after the food industry. Banner Health in Phoenix saved nearly 1.5 million over 12 months by reprocessing operating room supplies such as compression sleeves and open but unused devices.
Manufacturers and suppliers are helping reduce waste by streamlining packaging. At University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, surgical kits were reviewed. They found that the operating room packs contained supplies that were never used (and tossed.) One chemotherapy kit contained 44 items, but only 27 were needed. By having their supplier change the kit components and swap disposable gowns and linens for reusable ones, they trimmed a pound of trash and$50 in supply costs per procedure. Hundreds and thousands of procedures later, and it adds up to a whole lot of green – less waste and money saved.
Greening the Cleanroom
Professionals in cleanroom manufacturing industries are greening their workplaces as well. As with the dental and medical industries, the focus is on waste and energy conservation, as well as products “friendlier” to workers and the environment.
One of the greatest challenges is reducing energy consumption. The larger the facility, the more energy it uses. “Cleanrooms aren’t very efficient,” says manager Bill Bond, of QinetiQ North America, a contractor that operates cleanroom facilities for Goddard. “Airflow is always moving, and that takes energy.”
But his team was able to create an energy efficient design that includes computer-controlled sensing systems for lights and particulate counts. When the particle count reaches higher levels, the fans operate at higher speeds. Other efficiencies are created by treating just 10 percent of the air to maintain required air conditions, since the other 90 percent is already-filtered air that the system is recycling.
Modern modular cleanrooms feature coved surfaces and smooth transitions, making them easier to clean. Manufacturers have responded by redesigning wipers and mops to be reusable or use less cleaning solution or solvent. This is better for the environment as it minimizes the amount of chemicals needed to maintain cleanliness and sterility.
When it comes to clothing and PPE, cleanrooms are working hard to reduce waste and keep their operators safe and healthy. Rather than toss items like shoe covers and gowns after the first use, many facilities reuse these items as much their critical environment will allow for while still maintaining cleanliness. When it does come time to dispose of protective clothing, much of it is recycled. Products like accelerator-free cleanroom nitrile gloves are also a greener choice. Formulated with fewer chemicals and weighing on average 20% less than older generations of gloves, they are less likely to cause dermatitis in operators and reduce waste.
As technology continues to evolve, and creative and forward thinking individuals continue to spearhead green initiatives, no doubt newer and more environmentally friendly products, processes and facility designs will emerge.