In May, MD Publishing featured an excellent IAHCSM article on how Sterile Processing and Distribution departments can “go green”. The article notes that healthcare is among the top 5 energy consuming industries in the U.S. Approximately 2.4 million tons of waste are generated annually by this industry and many of its unsafe byproducts end up in our water supply. Finding eco-friendly sterilization and autoclaving processes would certainly improve this situation.

It makes a lot of sense for healthcare providers to seek to reduce their environmental impact. After all, there are indications that the rates of many types of cancer, birth defects, and other harmful conditions are increased by high pollution levels. The overall health of the planet is the greatest indicator of the quality of life its inhabitants can expect.

The main focus of the IAHCSM (International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management) piece was regarding purchasing decisions. They partnered with Practice Greenhealth in recommending a reduction in the purchase/use of several chemical components frequently used in sterilization/decontamination.

The list included glutaraldehydes, aerosol propellants, and ethylene oxide. These three substances contribute significantly to environmental degradation and/or are directly harmful to humans. The issue of disposal was also addressed since many facilities do not have a formal process in place for handling certain hazardous waste products.

“Green” Autoclaving

One sterilization product that did make the cut as being eco-friendly was the autoclave. Of course, reducing waste by cleaning and reusing instruments instead of simply throwing them away is the most obvious purpose of autoclaving. Additionally, pure steam doesn’t create toxic byproducts, it is just water. For items that can withstand high levels of heat, this is the way to go.

There are purchasing decisions that can affect the environmental impact of a steam sterilizer. For example, some manufacturers build in water conserving features (usually in the cooling system) that reduce consumption. Buying the right capacity of autoclave should also be an important consideration for every customer. If you buy a unit that is too small, your SPD department will have to run it more frequently just to keep up with demand. If you purchase a machine that is too large, you will waste energy by running loads that aren’t full.

That brings us to the third aspect of “green” autoclave function – operator training. One big energy, time, and water waster in SPDs is the dreaded wet load. Most of the time, incorrect loading, improper wrapping, and/or inadequate cooling cause this problem. When a tray of instruments shows signs of moisture after a cycle, it has to be completely re-sterilized. Proper education is the key to reducing this type of costly error.

Training is also one way to keep employees safe if a chemical based sterilization system is used instead of a steam autoclave. Hydrogen peroxide and ethylene oxide are both caustic substances that can pose a health risk if exposure occurs during equipment operation.

If you are thinking about your next sterilizer purchase, ask for a copy of our free report before you leave our website. It takes only a couple of minutes to read and can give you a good idea of what options will work best for keeping your facility clean and green.