Orthopaedic surgery good for your body but bad for planet, Pitt study finds

click to enlarge Orthopaedic surgery good for your body but bad for planet, Pitt study finds
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Research just published by University of Pittsburgh scientists highlights the unexpected environmental costs involved in routine procedures like knee replacements or cataract surgery.

According to a press release announcing the research, the medical health field as a whole accounts for about 10% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, with operating rooms contributing a large share of this.

“Surgical suites have a high environmental impact, partially because so many of the items they rely on are single-use, disposable products, like gowns, gloves, surgical instruments, and packaging,” says Melissa Bilec, a Pitt academic who researches sustainable engineering concepts. “We’re just beginning to find out the impacts of the field, but we know the impacts are there.”

Bilec and the other researchers, which include the celebrated late Freddie Fu as a posthumous contributor, compiled existing research on the waste produced by surgical procedures to better understand their impact and lay the ground for greener solutions. The authors believe much of these impacts can be curbed by finding ways to reuse materials that would otherwise end up in landfills, a goal they refer to as creating a “circular economy.”

The researchers note using current innovations like more efficient anaesthesia technologies and limiting single-use surgical devices can bring immediate environmental reductions.

Ian Engler, a co-author of the paper and UPMC orthopedic surgery sports medicine fellow, stressed the importance of studying environmental impacts in lesser-studied fields like healthcare.

“While thousands of articles are published in the field of orthopedic surgery each year, very few address sustainability,” said Engler. “Given the immense impact of climate change, we believe that every field must consider their role in becoming more sustainable.”