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Global Warming Impact of “Single-Use” Medical Device Cut in Half When Remanufactured Device Used Instead, According to Newly Published Research in Sustainability


Hospitals could cut emissions associated with some medical device use in half by opting instead for remanufactured single-use medical devices. The LCA evaluated the use of a remanufactured electrophysiology catheter compared with the use of original catheters for 16 different environmental impact categories and found that the use of reprocessed devices was superior in 13 categories.

The study, conducted by Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT, a division the worlds leading applied research organization Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and published in Sustainability, is the first comprehensive LCA exploring the environmental impact of a remanufactured single-use medical device compared to the take-make-dispose use of single-use original devices.

By avoiding the use of virgin materials, remanufacturing can reduce the environmental impacts of resource consumption and emissions, such as reducing abiotic resource use and the global warming impact (GWI), said Anna Schulte, M.S.c., Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT and lead study author. Hospitals that want to reduce harmful environmental impact should strongly consider using remanufactured ‘single-use’ medical devices like the EP catheters we studied.

This comprehensive LCA confirms what weve thought to be true – that remanufactured medical devices are significantly environmentally superior to the original device, said Daniel J. Vukelich, President and CEO, Association of Medical Device Reprocessors. These definitive environmental benefits, combined with the well documented financial and supply chain resiliency benefits of remanufactured devices make clear what EU Member States gain by ˜opting in to the EU MDR, and that hospitals already using remanufactured devices should double-down and expand their remanufacturing programs.

Healthcare is particularly wasteful and toxic.

Last December, the Journal Health Affairs concluded that the health sector is responsible for 4.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions and that the vast majority of health care global greenhouse gas emissions originate in the supply chain. Hospitals over-reliance on disposable or single-use medical devices and equipment over the last 30 years has been further exacerbated by the challenges associated with COVID. And supply chain vulnerabilities have demonstrated that reliance on a disposable culture may not always provide healthcare workers with the supplies they need.

LCA Finds Remanufacturing Superior in 13 of 16 Environmental Impact Categories

The authors researched 16 Impact Categories and found remanufactured catheters superior to original catheters in 13, including:

Ozone Depletion. Remanufactured devices reduced ozone depletion by nearly 90% (89.7%).

Climate Change. Remanufactured catheters cut CO2-equivalent emissions in half (50.4%).

Photochemical Ozone Formation. Remanufactured devices reduced human health-impacted photochemical ozone formation by 72.8%.

Respiratory Inorganics. Remanufactured devices reduced disease incidents from respiratory inorganics by 66.8%.

Cancer Human Health Effects. Remanufactured catheters reduced cancer causing human health effects by 60.9%.

Disinfectants and cleaning agents used for remanufactured catheters were found to elevate two environmental impacts for remanufactured devices compared to original catheters: land use for agriculture associated with citric acid cleaning agents (15.2%) and eutrophication freshwater use (25.1%). The authors note, however, that certain environmental inputs for original catheter production are unknown and thus not entered in their calculations.

The environmental analysis confirms that remanufacturing leads to a significant reduction in global warming, when studying the cradle to grave impact of water, sterilization gasses, detergents and disinfectants, packaging materials, and electricity (excluding the electricity used in original plastic production which is unknown by the authors).

Global Warming Impact of Plastic Manufacturing for Original Single-Use Medical Devices

The Fraunhofer researchers found that the global warming impact of plastic manufacturing for original EP catheters, which is avoided when using their remanufactured counterparts, accounts for more CO2 than the entire remanufacturing process, including the impact of cleaning the devices.

Global Use and Impact of Remanufactured SUDs

Remanufacturing single-use medical devices, which requires regulated, commercial companies to collect, clean, sterilize, test and return devices for use again at hospitals, is already in place at over 7,600 hospitals in the United States, Canada, Germany, England, Israel and Japan, yet only a small percent of the devices that can legally be remanufactured are. In the EU and the US, over 300 devices labelled for single-use are CE marked and cleared by FDA respectively for remanufacturing.

Sustaining value after the end of life for SUDs helps hospitals to lower costs, as remanufactured devices cost significantly less than their original counterparts. Use of the remanufactured devices helps hospitals redirect money to pressing needs, such as toward fighting COVID-19.

About Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, headquartered in Germany, is the worlds leading applied research organization. As a pioneer and catalyst for groundbreaking developments and scientific excellence, Fraunhofer helps shape society now and in the future. Founded in 1949, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft operates 74 institutes and research institutions throughout Germany. The majority of the organizations 28,000 employees are qualified scientists and engineers, who work with an annual research budget of 2.8 billion euros. Of this sum, 2.3 billion euros is generated through contract research.

About AMDR

The Association of Medical Device Reprocessors is the global trade association for the regulated, professional single-use device reprocessing and remanufacturing industry. For 20 years, AMDR has promoted remanufacturing as an important healthcare strategy that helps hospitals and healthcare providers increase quality, reduce costs, and strengthen the supply chain. AMDR protects the interests of its members in regulation, legislation and standard-setting.

AMDR members include Innovative Health, Medline Renewal, NEScientific, ReNu Medical, Stryker Sustainable Solution, Sustainable Technologies (a Cardinal Health Business), and Vanguard AG. Having played a key role in the establishment of the reprocessing industry, AMDR continues to push the global medical technology industry and lead the way for remanufacturing to play a defining role in the evolution and use of new device technologies.

David Sheon

+1 202 422-6999

[email protected]

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