The health care sector is a huge contributor to wellbeing. It saves lives on a daily basis. However, many companies face several challenges to making their organizations more environmental-friendly. Rushed manufacturing and outsourcing production have contributed to the lack of sustainable solutions currently being utilized to reduce waste output.
However, demand for green solutions within health care is on the rise. NHS in the UK and the Regions in Denmark have both introduced high demands in their procurement policies.
Especially five forms of pollution caused by production of health care products, pharmaceuticals and devices contributes to the high levels of emissions:
- General waste
- Medical waste
- Hazardous waste
- Non-renewable raw materials
- Environmental pollution
The effects of climate change are perhaps the most complex issue facing modern society, and the issue affects every aspect of human life, including health on an individual and societal level. Therefore, we must seek solutions.
Circular economy represents such a solution. If carried out well, the ‘closed loop economy’ has the potential to help companies reduce waste, costs, and risks, while at the same time increasing effectiveness within production, differentiate in competition, and respecting the planetary boundaries.
With the circular economy model implemented, we will no longer generate excessive waste as any waste becomes a resource, because when a product reaches the end of its life, the materials are used again and again.
It is a way of doing good better, and there are many low-hanging fruits just by focusing on waste alone.
Waste is Often Too Complex to Handle
A study from the U.S. found that 90 percent of households put their unwanted medicines in the regular trash bin or water stream. Solely in the U.S., an additional 50,000 tons of waste per year is estimated to be generated from home health care products. Lack of guidance and sorting metrics of health care waste have caused most individuals to create their own way of handling the waste.
But waste should not be too complex to handle for the average citizen. Better guidance is needed within this field to make it more likely that waste is handled correct.
Many companies – especially the small and medium sized – are struggling with the economic bottom line, day-to-day problems in the supply chain, and beating the aggressive competition in the market in general. Sustainability and the fight for ‘the greater good’ is not always manageable in such setting.
The circular economy model is a lever to reducing negative environmental impact in an effective way.
3 Ways to Use the Circular Economy Model to Reduce Waste and Costs
One circular economy approach relevant for the health care sector is green chemistry, which uses renewable raw materials, eliminates waste and avoids the use of toxic and hazardous reagents and solvents in the manufacturing and application of chemical products.
Green Chemistry is defined as
“The design of chemical products and processes that are more environmentally benign and reduce negative impacts to human health and the environment.”
As the above figures hows, companies that are practicing green chemistry in their processes show impressive results towards minimizing waste and it has also shown to be cost-efficient because reductions of waste are related with significant cost savings.
Surprisingly, the pharmaceutical sector is leading in terms of amounts of by-product per kg produced. Of course, the value derived per kg produced is also worth factoring in, but the table speaks its own very clear language.
Another way of reducing waste is “pollution prevention” which is when emphasis is placed on minimizing the leftovers of pharma production rather than finding more efficient ways of processing waste. The production begins with raw materials, and caution should be taken when choosing these materials and the ways to extract them.
Companies can additionally increase the products’ end-of-life recycling rates by using raw materials in a smarter way or using innovative new materials. By doing that, the companies can additionally reduce their dependence on raw materials and at the same time minimize waste generation.
A third and tangible opportunity for companies could be to focus on recyclable, light-weight packaging consisting of renewable materials. For example, a study showed how a simple product, a reusable surgical gown, could have significant sustainability benefits.
Questions Lead the Way to Circular Thinking
The efforts of private companies towards circularity can in fact lead to a more sustainable health sector. Sustainable solutions in the field have the potential to not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but importantly also address a range of issues related to pollution and waste.
The effects should benefit natural environments and human health alike, and bring the industry inline with the scope of international agreements on sustainability such as the Paris Agreement of 2015.
One way to get there is to start asking new questions. Questions like:
- How might we improve on production methods?
- How might we guide staff, consumers, subcontractors, and business partners to reach a higher level of awareness about climate and environmental related issues?
- How might we map how much unnecessary waste is our company accountable for?
- How might we apply circular thinking with lowcost – and which are the direct gains?
Questions like these will lead not only to a higher level of awareness and concern, but to new and greener solutions.
Circular economy offers an opportunity to doing good better. The health care sector is already helping people all over the world: from solving everyday issues of the consumer to saving lives. However, the potential to help people and planet thrive even more is huge and right at hand.
And it is up for grabs.
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