Circular healthcare is a sustainable approach that reduces waste generation and minimises the exposure to harmful chemicals in the healthcare sector. Circular healthcare promotes the reuse, repair, and recycling of toxic-free products and materials.
The healthcare sector must transition from using problematic and unnecessary single-use products, phase out harmful chemicals and become a leader in implementing sustainable supply chains. Its scale and significant purchasing power create an ideal opportunity to advocate for toxic-free reusable solutions that save natural resources and the planet while reducing waste and budgets with products that are safe and sustainable by design.
A circular approach reduces the lifecycle impacts of products, curbs climate emissions and minimises the use of harmful chemicals in healthcare. The circular economy is a model of production and consumption that strives to maintain the usability of existing materials and manufactured products as long as possible through sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, and refurbishing.
Within a circular economy, waste is reduced to a minimum. When products can no longer be used or repaired, materials are kept within the economy wherever possible through recycling - disposal is the last resort. In our current economy, a “take>make>use>dispose” approach is the most common practice, with only 12% of secondary materials and resources recovered for reuse. As the healthcare sector increasingly depends on single-use disposable products, it becomes more susceptible to disruptions in its supply chain.
Introducing a circular healthcare system can significantly increase the sector's ability to adapt and persist over time. By prioritising sustainable supply chains and prolonging the use of healthcare products, the system can effectively reduce waste production and hazardous emissions at every stage of the product lifecycle. Additionally, this approach guarantees proper implementation of the waste hierarchy.
To apply the waste hierarchy effectively, it is necessary to ask the following questions in sequence:
- Refuse: Is this item truly required?
- Reduce: Is it sometimes used unnecessarily? Can its use be reduced?
- Reuse, repair, reprocess: Are reusable and non-toxic alternatives available? Can the item be reprocessed?
- Recycle: Can this item be recycled locally and transparently? Does the recycled item provide any value to the economy?
Phasing out harmful chemicals, such as endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, mutagens, and substances toxic to reproduction, is a crucial component of achieving a circular healthcare system. These chemicals are widely present in healthcare products, including disinfectants, medical devices, furniture, electronic equipment, solvents, and pharmaceuticals. Substituting harmful chemicals will not only enhance the safety for patients and other vulnerable groups, but will also mitigate environmental pollution. Additionnally, relying on non-toxic, reusable products reduces the recycling process’s complexity and enhances the supply chain's understanding of hazardous substances.
The European healthcare sector plays a significant role in the economy as a major purchaser of goods and services, with 12,990 hospitals and 2.8 million hospital beds. However, the sector's activities, including the treatment of patients, consume large amounts of energy and water, building materials, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices, which result in environmental pollution and waste generation.
Our circular healthcare program aims to facilitate the transition towards a more sustainable healthcare system through the following approaches:
- Identifying the obstacles and opportunities for introducing circular practices in healthcare settings.
- Supporting the adoption of reduction strategies by health systems to reduce waste generation and promote sustainable production and consumption behaviors. This includes pilot projects, awareness campaigns, and training programs.
- Encouraging the development of markets for circular, socially responsible, and climate-neutral products and services by promoting the consideration of environmental, social, and health factors in procurement criteria and engaging with stakeholders throughout the supply chain.
- Advocating for a policy framework that supports the transformation of healthcare towards a circular economy, including regulatory measures that promote the elimination of hazardous substances starting from the product design phase.