April 18, 2023

Single-use items contribute two-thirds of carbon footprint in the OR

Editor's Note

In this study from the UK, researchers find that two-thirds of carbon contributions in the OR can be attributed to single-use items and one-third to reusable products used in five common surgical procedures.

The mean average carbon footprint includes:

  • 85.5 kg CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents) for knee arthroplasty
  • 20.3 kg CO2e for laparoscopic cholecystectomy
  • 12.0 kg CO2e for carpal tunnel decompression
  • 11.7 kg CO2e for inguinal hernia repair
  • 7.5 kg CO2e for tonsillectomy.

Across the five procedures, 23% of the products used were responsible for 80% or more of the procedures' carbon footprint. Products with the greatest carbon contribution for each procedure were:

  • single-use hand drapes (carpal tunnel decompression)
  • single-use surgical gowns (inguinal hernia repair)
  • bone cement mix (knee arthroplasty)
  • single-use clip appliers (laparoscopic cholecystectomy)
  • single-use table drapes (tonsillectomy).

The mean average carbon contributions from processes were:

  • 54% from production of single-use items
  • 20% from decontamination of reusables
  • 8% from disposal of single-use items
  • 6% from production of packaging for single-use items
  • 6% from linen laundering.

Changes in practices and policies should target those products making the greatest carbon contribution, and they should include reducing single-use items, switching to reusables, and optimizing processes for decontamination and waste disposal, the authors say.


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