Plastic, plastic, everywhere

Posted on 09. Jun, 2011 by in Environmental Health, Green Healthcare, Sustainability, Sustainability in Healthcare

While one of the most convenient substances ever created, there are some sobering statistics regarding plastic:

*It has been produced for a 150 years; it doesn’t really biodegrade, but rather breaks down into smaller and smaller particles.  Scientists estimate that the point at which it is no longer visible to the human eye is 400+ years (Casey, 2007)

*We manufacture over 6 billion pounds of plastic every year, of which only 3-5% is recycled (Casey, 2007).

*There is 6x more plastic in our oceans than there is plankton (Casey, 2007).

Plastic is a petroleum-based material with a host of unpleasant byproducts (bisphenol-A, DEHP, PVC) known to adversely affect human health (cancer, birth defects, infertility, diabetes, hyperactivity).  We are directly exposed when we consume products contained in plastic (especially when heated), and consume affected seafood, already burdened with mercury, largely due to burning of coal, the contaminants of which also drift off-shore.

We need to stem the tide of plastic.  In our personal lives, we are returning to the idea of reusables – shopping bags, water bottles, and food containers.  In our professional lives, we should likewise look to reduce our use of plastic by:

*Eliminating plastic water bottles from our nutritional services and vending

*Eliminate IV bags and tubing which contain DEHP

*Reduce blue wrap in the OR by using closed containers

*Replace plastic products with reusable or biodegradable materials (basins, bins, pitchers, trays, and dishware)

*Reprocess “single use disposable” products

Recycling, while helpful in keeping plastic out of the places we don’t want, is after the fact.  We must stem the flow of plastic from its source by reducing our consumption of it, which will reduce demand and production of it.

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