A More Sustainable Future for the Healthcare Industry

Updated on April 7, 2023

Innovative suppliers are leading the way with reusable and biodegradable alternatives

The importance and prioritization of sustainability in today’s healthcare industry cannot be overstated. The healthcare sector accounts for 8.5% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.,producing over 5.9 million tons of healthcare-related waste yearly. Fortunately, the healthcare sector has started taking the initial steps to reduce emissions moving forward.

Earlier this year, the White House-Health Sector Climate Pledge lifted its commitment deadline to allow even more organizations to join the cause. Signing organizations agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

To fulfill these commitments, the healthcare industry has had to adjust its practices – ranging from greener cleaning protocols to LEED certification for new building construction. Green innovation is required not only from hospitals and healthcare facilities but also from medical suppliers. 

Of the annual 5.9 million tons of medical-related waste in the U.S., 85% is general, non-hazardous waste, which includes pillows, wedges, and other positioning products. Because traditional positioning products are only suitable for single-patient use, hospitals must replace these products frequently and in large quantities – resulting in greater carbon emissions and waste production. To put this into context, at least 15 reusable pillows are used per hospital bed each year, resulting in the disposal of almost 14 million pillows in the U.S. alone. This number increases exponentially when you consider the number of hospitals using disposable pillows within their facilities.

Spry Therapeutics, a manufacturer and supplier of positioning products, is answering the call with a clean, green, and multi-patient alternative to traditional positioning devices. Their filtered positioning pillow blocks pathogen ingress in an effort to reduce hospital acquired infection, and can be safely sanitized between patients. Spry’s  patented filter technology enables healthcare facilities to reduce their carbon footprint – and associated expenses – without compromising patient outcomes.

In addition to reusability, using biodegradable materials is emerging as a clear path forward in minimizing the healthcare industry’s carbon footprint. One such alternative is PimaLoft® Bio™ fill. In contrast to the poly-blend fibers used in traditional pillows – which take incredibly long amounts of time to break down – PrimaLoft® Bio™ is a fill made from biodegradable*, 100% recycled fibers that break down when exposed to specific environments – such as landfills, oceans and wastewater systems – in as little as two years. In addition, these fibers maintain their structure throughout use, only biodegrading* when exposed to the naturally-occurring microorganisms found in landfills or marine environments.

By seeking innovative alternatives to traditional soft goods, plastics, and textiles, healthcare facilities can reduce their environmental waste – without compromising their standard of care. With over 15% of the country’s hospitals committing to the Health Sector Climate pledge so far, it is clear that the desire for a cleaner, more sustainable future in health care is on the horizon. 

As healthcare facilities search for ways to improve their sustainability practices, suppliers have a responsibility to help them achieve it. With companies, such as Spry Therapeutics, providing hospitals with products that are both reusable and biodegradable, suppliers will be instrumental in ensuring the healthcare industry has the tools it needs to fulfill its pledge. 

*93.7% biodegradation in 646 days under ASTM D5511 conditions (landfill environment); 88.4% biodegradation in 1893 days under ASTM D6691 conditions  (marine/ ocean environment). 38.8% biodegradation in 410 days under ASTM D5210  conditions (municipal sewage sludge environment); 29.9% biodegradation in 196 days under ASTM D5988 conditions (soil environment). The stated rate and extent of  degradation does not mean that the product will continue to degrade.

Bill Purdy
Bill Purdy