Journal article focuses on sustainability strategies to reduce OR waste

Operating rooms (ORs) contribute up to 20 to 33 percent of a hospital’s waste, according to studies.*,† Examples of this waste include disposable surgical supplies, such as:

  • Drapes
  • Gowns
  • Basins
  • Gloves
  • Sponges

Because ORs are resource-intensive, there is an opportunity for improvement in this area, which may lead not only to greener, more environmentally responsible results, but also cost reductions for health care facilities.

A study in the October 2021 issue of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety—“Sustainability initiatives in the operating room,” by Samantha Wu and Elizabeth Cerceo, MD, FACP, FHM, at Cooper University Healthcare, Camden, NJ—identifies evidence-based green practices and sustainability strategies to reduce waste in the OR.

The authors searched the MEDLINE, EMBASE, and ProQuest databases and studied 78 of the 108 published articles.

They identified the following strategies:

  • Forming an OR committee or a hospital “green team” dedicated to environmentally sustainable initiatives to improve the impact on the environment while also saving the hospital money
  • Changing the supply chain with preferences for reusable devices, effective recycling, repurposing instruments, and donating items to divert waste away from landfills
  • Reducing unnecessary packaging and instruments to eliminate excess in the waste stream
  • Curtailing energy and water usage to improve cost and environmental savings
  • Determining whether certain surgical venues, such as inpatient versus outpatient surgical centers, contribute to waste
  • Transitioning away from certain inhaled anesthetics to minimize greenhouse gas impact
  • Educating staff across all levels of the health care system to drive and maintain change

The authors concluded that optimizing efficiency and decreasing waste generation could have a positive impact on the environment, as well as lead to reductions in cost to the health care organization. However, because the field of sustainability in health care is new, the authors suggested that increased research is needed to support evidence-based approaches.

The article can be read online.


The thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Dr. Jacobs and do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Commission or the American College of Surgeons.

*Wyssusek KH, Foong WM, Steel C, Gillespie BM. The gold in garbage: Implementing a waste segregation and recyclinginitiative. AORN J. 2016;103(3):316.e1-8.

Conrardy J, Hillanbrand M, Myers S, Nussbaum GF. Reducing medical waste. AORN J. 2010;91(6):711-21.

Wu S, Cerceo E. Sustainability initiatives in the operating room. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2021;47(10):663-672. Available at: Accessed December 6, 2021.

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