Fifty-four percent of US hospitals’ greenhouse gas emissions are derived from supply chain goods and services.
Targeting supply chain points and replacing disposable products with reusables can reduce these greenhouse gases. We estimate US hospitals dispose of their needles, scalpels, etc, into 35 million disposable or reusable sharps containers generating 96,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MTCO2eq) in their manufacture, use and disposal.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH), an 850 bed hospital in Chicago IL, converted from disposable sharps containers to the Sharpsmart system; a device associated with significantly less container-related sharps injuries.
The authors developed a lifecycle inventory and a sharps-containers LCA tool. We calculated GHG emissions (CO2, CH4, N20), for 12 months before and after Northwestern Memorial Hospitals' conversion from a polypropylene disposable sharps container (BD, Franklin Lakes NJ) to a reusable Sharpsmart sharps container. The study utilised site-specific primary energy input data where possible; US industry data for disposable sharps container manufacture, and disposable and reusable sharps container transport, grid-specific CO2eq factors for electricity; and international values for reusable sharps container resin manufacture. Container contents were excluded.
The greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacture, transport, washing, treatment and disposal were assessed over 12 months in both systems. GHG were expressed as metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (MTCO2eq).
By converting to Sharpsmart reusable sharps containers, Northwestern Memorial Hospital reduced its annual greenhouse gases by 93 MTCO2eq. If reusable sharps containers were used nationally we estimate hospital annual landfilled plastic and greenhouse gases would fall by 18,000 tons and 57,000 MTCO2e respectively. While a small fraction of the 115 million MTCO2eq generated by hospital supply chain emissions, adoption of reusable sharps containers is a positive step in formulating sustainable hospital supply chain purchasing policy. Furthermore, the Sharpsmart is associated with a 57% reduction in disposal-related sharps injuries showing that, although rare, sustainability and safety can go hand in hand.
Results showed that in converting to the Sharpsmart reusable sharps container system, the facility had per annum:
- 84% reduction in GHG associated with sharps container usage
- 127 metric ton reduction in GHG
- 93% reduction in the manufacture of containers
- 99.9% reduction in the number of plastic sharps containers landfilled
- 31% reduction in the number of containers exchanged by staff
- 99.6% reduction in mass of plastic landfilled
- 98% reduction in weight of cardboard used
- 57% reduction in disposal-related Sharps Injuries
In addition, the cost of sharps container usage and disposal fell by 19%.
The 84% reduction of CO2eq emissions with the Sharpsmart system exceeds the 2020 reduction target for US federal hospitals. If Sharpsmart reusable containers were used nationally in the US, we estimate annual US hospital GWP would fall by 64,000 MTCO2eq