Five Fascinating Facts about Plastics in Healthcare

A stethascope laying on top of medical papersSeeing is believing: 75% of American adults use plastics every day to see, whether that’s using eyeglass frames, lenses or contact lenses, which are typically made of plastic.

The blue wrap: In nearly every healthcare setting, from the dentist’s chair to a surgical suite, so-called blue wrap is used to protect equipment. Why? The polypropylene-based material fights microbial contamination and resists liquids, which makes it critical given that healthcare providers rely on sterilization to protect equipment and patients.

Plastic is hip: One of the most common surgeries in the United States and Europe—hip replacements—used metal-on-metal sockets for years. Today, new hip socket designs are made with carbon fiber–reinforced polyetheretherketone (PEEK) plastic that has demonstrated superior strength, wear resistance and compatibility with other parts to mimic the joint and function of the human hip.

The 99.99% solution: Approximately five to 10% of hospital patients contract hospital-related infections in the United States, potentially extending their hospital stay and increasing the cost of care. Plastics are being made with antimicrobial additives that repel or even kill bacteria: Current generation antimicrobial plastics can reduce bacteria by up to 99.99%. They are used in everything from catheters to hospital room doorknobs.

Healthcare waste can—and should—be recycled: About 85% of hospital waste is noninfectious, according to the World Health Organization, and a bulk of that is recyclable. Yet, most of these materials have traditionally been landfilled or burned, and some haulers are reluctant to take some medical materials. While waste-reduction efforts need to be balanced with patient and provider safety, there are real efforts to improve landfill diversion of plastic medical devices. For instance, in 2017, Cleveland Clinic facilities reported recycling 33% of their waste. The Cleveland Clinic recycled 194 tons of plastic.


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