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Sustainability: Mapping Out the Lifecycle of Single-Use Medical Devices

In 2020, the health crisis saw an increase in plastic waste as a result of a growing demand for single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) both within the medical industry, as well as among the wider population (1). This demand is only expected to grow, with estimated figures suggesting the global PPE market value could reach $123.38 billion by 2027 – registering a compound annual growth rate of 9.6% (2). The damaging environmental impact of such a huge surge in demand is cause for concern. Even prior to the pandemic, it was clear that the healthcare industry needed to urgently address issues, such as waste management and sustainability, in order to minimise the environmental impact of the sector. Currently, the combined healthcare sectors of the US, Australia, Canada, and England emit an estimated 748 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year, an output greater than the carbon emissions of all but six nations worldwide (3).

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed a light on the urgent need to review and improve waste management across the medical industry. Transitioning towards greater sustainability presents a number of challenges, however. Striking a balance between product sustainability, patient safety standards, and commercial viability requires strategic planning. Finding ways to be more sustainable can be achieved by working through the entire lifecycle of the product: starting with how medical waste is handled at the end of a product’s life (EOL), moving through middle of life (MOL) manufacturing processes, and then retracing steps back to the product’s beginning of life (BOL) to examine device and packaging materials and design.

EOL: Away With Product Re-Use and in With Recycling Materials

Today, approximately 90% of all medical waste is composed of disposable, single-use items, due to concerns relating to hygiene and infection control. For instance, regulations require that products used for invasive procedures are single use to prevent the spread of blood-borne infections. Limiting the spread of healthcare-associated infections is a top concern, as well as its subsequent impact on antimicrobial resistance. During a global pandemic, all of these concerns are further heightened, placing a higher focus on the use of disposable products.

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George I’ons is currently Head of Product Strategy and Insights at Owen Mumford, having worked for the former OEM, and now Pharmaceutical Services division of the organisation since 2006. His current focus is on deciphering the rapidly changing pharma and biotech sectors in relation to their needs for combination products. In his previous roles in business development, he worked closely alongside R&D to develop devices for a variety of global pharma and diagnostic clients. Prior to Owen Mumford, George worked for Abbott in EMEA marketing roles in Germany, focusing on their diabetes business.
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