Study: US operating rooms produce more than 2,000 tons of waste daily

Dive Brief:

  • A study from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) estimates that almost $1,000 in unused surgical supplies are wasted per procedure, as reported by KQED.
  • The research, published by the Journal of Neurosurgery, looked at 58 neurosurgeries performed by 14 different surgeons at UCSF Medical Center. Findings showed that UCSF's neurosurgery department may be wasting $2.9 million in supplies every year.
  • Sponges, blue towels and gloves were among the most commonly wasted items. The most expensive item was "surgifoam," a type of sponge used to stop bleeding, which costs about $4,000.

Dive Insight:

One researcher estimated that U.S. operating rooms produce about 2,000 tons of waste per day and said spinal surgeries were among the most wasteful. While some of this waste is hazardous, many items are either never taken out of their packages or didn't need to be opened in the first place. A surgeon's length of job experience wasn't found to have any correlation to how much was wasted during their procedures.

Potential ideas for changing this practice include a "feedback system" which would compare surgeons' cost per procedure and "preference cards" which would ask surgeons to list the items they needed rather than having the same inventory each time. UCSF has also saved $1.1 million in the past year by sending some medical devices to an FDA-approved company that reprocesses and sells them back at about half of the original sales price. However, it is clear that more needs to be done. 

Medical waste management is a rapidly growing field as access to healthcare expands and people live longer. Many companies have gotten involved in processing hazardous waste and IBM Research is even working on a type of biodegradable plastic that could have medical applications. Yet this is a category of medical waste that seems largely unnecessary and easy to reduce through common-sense planning.

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Filed Under: Collections & Transfer Waste Diversion
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