01. 02. 2023

Sustainability in the Medical Device Industry

Sustainability is more than a buzzword; it’s a business imperative. The world is facing environmental and social crises and consumers are demanding that companies and individuals take responsibility and action. It’s a hot topic in our work lives as much as it is privately. For many of us, it guides the brands we choose, the food we eat, and the decisions we make in day-to-day life.

Fast fashion is one example of unsustainable living and a major contributor to the worldwide problem. Overall, the fashion industry is responsible for 8-10% of global emissions, according to the UN - more than the aviation and shipping combined.

The term ‘fast fashion’ describes the quick turnover of fashion trends and the move towards cheap, mass-produced clothing where new lines are constantly released.

What is the environmental impact of this?

Most of fashion's environmental impact comes from the use of raw materials:

  • Cotton for the fashion industry uses about 2.5% of the world's farmland

  • Synthetic materials like polyester require an estimated 342 million barrels of oil every year

  • Clothes production processes such as dying requires 43 million tonnes of chemicals a year

How does sustainability impact the Medical Device industry?

Manufacturers are giving sustainability in medical device design more and more attention. Sustainable medical equipment can benefit businesses in terms of cost savings, investor attraction, greater brand value, and competitive advantage, in addition to being better for the environment and appealing to consumers. Manufacturers must consider sustainability at the beginning of the design phase and take the equipment's whole lifecycle into account if they are to gain these advantages.

How to make medical devices more sustainable

There are many approaches to make medical devices more sustainable. For example, they could use less energy, be produced with low-emission materials and procedures, utilize fewer materials or less packaging, or have longer lifespans.

The sustainability of a medical device is significantly influenced by the choice of materials. Using more sustainable materials makes a device more tolerable for patients, for example by using fewer toxic chemicals during production. Using the fewest resources possible in production helps to enable recycling alternatives. Sustainability considerations should be built into the design of the device from the very beginning.

However, medical device manufacturers face several challenges as a result. A lot of devices, such as needles and catheters, must be packaged sterile, which produces a lot of waste. The options for substituting or reducing the materials used is often limited due to the sterility requirements. Other manufacturers can switch to reusable materials or make their packaging as mono-material a possible, which makes it easier to recycle.

The first step in becoming more sustainable is having an awareness of it as a business, or as a personal goal. Using this awareness can help us all to make better conscious decisions in our buying patterns, and in our R&D processes.

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