Plastics in Health Care: Crisis or Opportunity?

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ASA Monitor


Plastic is one of the most consequential inventions of the 20th century. Presently, over 335 million tons of plastic is produced in the world each year.1 Plastics are used broadly throughout healthcare because they are light weight, waterproof, and perceived as low cost compared to reusable goods. As a result, healthcare facilities in the United States generate around one million tons of plastic waste per year, the majority (85 percent) of which is non-infectious and potentially suitable for recycling.2 Many of the plastics used in healthcare applications have health and environmental impacts associated with their use and disposal. Dioxin, a by-product of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is a known carcinogen. Plastic additives such as phthalates are ionically bound to the plastic matrix and leach out, especially when contacting heat and lipids.3 Phthalates have been found in food, drinking water, and in urine after single exposures to intravenous fluids.4 Phthalates disrupt endocrine function and have been associated with negative effects on liver, spleen, bone formation, body weight, and asthma.3 Plastic persists in the environment for decades, often contaminating the marine ecosystem, food chain, and water sources. Sadly, it is projected that there will be more plastic by weight in our oceans than there are fish by 2050.5


Environmental Stewardship