While the significance of prioritising re-use over single-use has been gaining greater recognition for the past few decades, it is only since the mid-point of the 2010s that it underwent a transformation from ‘niche interest’ to a near-unanimous cultural shift.
Now, individuals and businesses alike are striving to mitigate their reliance on single-use objects, from food packaging to bottles, bags, balloons, and a long list of disposable implements used across food, beauty and health.
Our desire to emancipate ourselves from the term ‘single-use’ altogether, however, has opened up a wide range of issues across many of the world’s leading industries. For some, such as the fast food industry, are simply tackling each issue as it arises, from replacing single-use straws to reinventing their packaging methods. Others, however, have demonstrated the need for modified expectations.
The medical industry has, for many decades now, made use of a wide range of disposable tools and devices – partially to reduce costs by circumventing the need for sterilisation, but also because these implements often prove safer and more effective than their stainless steel counterparts.
A prime example of this lies in the surgical retractor. These days, the fully-adjustable, self-retaining design pioneered by the team at June Medical offers far better prospects in the OR than other iterations of this vital device. June Medical’s design is constructed out of medical grade plastic – a fact which offers many notable benefits over re-usable, surgical steel devices, from ensuring better malleability to cutting costs for hospitals that are already stretched thin.
The same can be said for a wide array of other instruments, from single-use syringes (for which the benefits needn’t be extoled) to much more specialised devices, utilising plastic – and, of course, discarding it as soon as it is no longer needed – is a mainstay of the medical world.
Can that Reliance Change?
In many ways, yes – and it already has. Plenty of once-disposable devices and pieces of equipment have been replaced by reusable counterparts, and researchers have long since begun the monumental task of sifting through the statistics, and ascertaining which reusable items represent a strong investment for hospitals.
Still, the economy of these decisions remains significant – more so than it does for companies and industries better placed to wrestle with the task of balancing non-plastic investments with their bottom line.
Single-use plastic always been, and always will be, a cheap solution. In fact, creating more of it can be cheaper than recycling. In the medical world, however, reducing costs is an exercise that must take place across the board, but only insomuch as it does not compromise the health and safety of patients or personnel.
Thus, even if a reusable replacement is safe, if the costs are significantly higher, hospitals cannot commit. Similarly, even if a replacement is more affordable, if it poses an elevated risk to patients or hospital workers, it cannot be utilised.
This is why progress in the medical world may seem slower than it is in other industries, who are much further along in their fight to eliminate single-use plastics. Ultimately, it is incredibly unlikely that the medical world will ever sever ties with this material – and, in many ways, a highly undesirable scenario for all of us.
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