KT for Good: UAE hospitals trying to reduce plastic footprint
In the seventh part of our series, we look at the measures taken by hospitals in the UAE to reduce plastic usage.
Plastic has revolutionised the healthcare industry of the world. It has long outflanked other materials used in clinics and hospitals such as metal, glass and ceramics due to its various unique qualities. These include its flexibility to be molded into endless shapes and products. Plastic devices are also resistant to chemicals and lipids as they withstand chemicals without the danger of reacting. And lastly, the most important factor that probably led to the shift from glass and ceramics to light weight, durable plastic is the ever-growing need for sterile, single-use disposable devices to help keep diseases from spreading.
Although it's almost impossible to quantify the usage of plastics at hospitals, a report from the Ontario Hospital Association estimates hospitals are responsible for at least 1 per cent of non-residential landfill waste. It is not that the use of disposables in healthcare sector is something new. In fact, it has been there since 1960s but what is alarming is that the shift is still continuing and is taking into wraps even the equipment that would be ok otherwise such as disposable surgical instruments.
It is not the use but the growing trend that poses a threat to the growing plastic pollution in the world.
Khaleej Times speaks to some of the hospital chains of the UAE on how are they capping their plastic consumption.
Shatrujeet Kumar Rai?, hospital director at Prime Healthcare Group, said there are some things that are beyond their capability to replace plastic, such as syringes, IV bottles etc because of the sanitation and safety factor. "But we do intend to reduce plastic consumption among our staff and also responsibly dispose the recyclable plastic."
Prime Hospital, he said, uses Emirates Conformity Assessment Scheme certified plastic bags that are biodegradable. Rai added that all the plastic used by the hospital is disposed-off in different colour bags that clearly segregate the plastic waste from others and this is then collected by the companies authorised by the Dubai Health Authority, who then recycle it.
In terms of future projects to reduce plastic consumption at the hospital, Rai said: "I am also looking at the cost-effectiveness of replacing the plastic shoe covers at ICUs and operation theatre section with Spunbond-Meltblown-Spunbond wrap (SMS) as well as at some other items at the operation theatre."
Highlighting another area of concern, Rai mentioned the use of plastic cups kept on water dispensers around the hospital. "Here we couldn't do away with plastic cups due to hygiene issue so I looked at another aspect here. I disconnected the hot water supply of these water coolers so that at least nobody takes hot water in plastic, which can be harmful."
Rai has also stopped the usage of plastic plates and spoons from the beverage section for the hospital staff and offered them ceramic or steel plates.
Speaking for Aster Hospital and Aster Pharmacy on the initiatives taken for reducing the usage of plastics in their units, Dr Sherbaz Bichu, CEO for Aster Hospitals, said:
"Over the years, we have reduced our plastic consumption - limiting it to only within our pharmacies. Within the corporate space too, we encourage our employees to reduce the usage of plastic in their daily lives starting from simple things like spoons and cups. Our cafeteria also serves food on porcelain plates, thereby drastically cutting down on plastic waste."
Talking about particular pharmacies of Aster, he said: "At Aster Pharmacy in Deira City Centre, all the plastic bags have been replaced with bio-degradable ones. Furthermore, the pharmacy itself is environment-friendly, in as much as it has been constructed using recyclable materials. Aster Pharmacy conducted a school-wide initiative to encourage use of its bamboo toothbrush product - Woo Bamboo. The idea behind this was to spread awareness among school-going children that the effort to reduce plastic use can begin from the most basic, daily activity like brushing their teeth. Currently, the initiative has reached around 15,000-17,000 children."
Calling plastic pollution a serious global problem, Prasanth Manghat, CEO and executive director of NMC Health, said: "The amount of plastic in the ocean continues to grow - affecting wildlife and humans alike. At NMC, we took a moral ground to reduce our plastic usage. Saturdays, being the busiest days in our hospitals, have now gone plastic-free. All pharmacy dispensing is done via cloth bags, eventually saving about 15,000 poly-bags going into circulation. Championed by the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency, this campaign, "Together We Make the Difference", was created in alignment with the Year of Zayed and is comprised of a series of seabed clean-ups. As the healthcare partner of this campaign, we extended our support to it and in one of the clean-ups at Al Mirfa Port, we collected 4,700kg of marine litter."
NMC employees also volunteered to take part in Clean-Up the World initiative, an environmental programme that calls for individuals around the world to clean up their environment, repair and maintain it. The event was managed by the Dubai Municipality and has boosted the sense of citizenship and environmental consciousness among our employees.
Where disposables are the only safe option, hospitals in the UAE say there are ways to reduce their footprint, and Thumbay Fujairah has also joined the bandwagon.
Thumbay Hospital Fujairah staff regularly takes part in cleaning drives such as removing plastic items from the road and beach and dispose them of to clean the community and create awareness regarding recycling and proper disposal of plastic items.
Thumbay Hospital Fujairah has also gone filmless, which means that it does not use X-ray films as an initiative to cut down their use. The radiology images are now delivered to the care providers through the PACS system.
The hospital has replaced all plastic cups with paper cups from its drinking water coolers. And medicines are also given to patients in bio-degradable plastic bags at Thumbay Fujairah.
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