WESTLAKE, OHIO (July 3, 12:25 p.m. ET) — Sustainability is becoming a more important issue for manufacturers and designers of medical devices, according to Chris Kaye, vice president of research and technical innovation at US Endoscopy.
Some sustainability experts might look at plastics as a problem — especially devices or packaging made from PVC, which is widely used in the medical industry.
But Kaye stressed that plastics have important sustainability-related benefits to the medical-device sector.
“Plastics get blamed for a lot of the ills. I've heard sustainability experts talk to me and they say, ‘Plastics are the bane of my existence.'
“I think that people forget the good things that plastics bring: the strength-to-weight ratio, the processing flexibility, the property characteristics,” Kaye said at the Plastics in Medical Devices 2012 conference, held June 12-13 in Westlake.
US Endoscopy, headquartered in Mentor, Ohio, specializes in the design and manufacturing of gastrointestinal endoscopy devices.
“If we weren't making plastics, there's this viewpoint that we'd have more oil. But realistically, we'd be shipping around a lot bigger, bulker, heavier products. We wouldn't even have the lifestyle we have today.
“Realistically we'd be worse off, not better off, than we are today,” Kaye said.
Sustainability in the medical-device sector is more complicated than in other end markets, Kaye said. That's primarily because medical-device manufacturers have to worry about cross-contamination risks and patient safety.
“Another thing we've got to worry about is hospital procedures,” he added. “There are many hospitals where they throw the packaging away — anything that goes into the endoscopy suite or the ER [emergency room] unit gets thrown away.”
That means even if a medical-device manufacturer makes the effort to use materials that can be easily recycled, those products will still end up in landfills or incinerators — unless the device manufacturer helps the hospital change its procedure.
Also, the designer of a medical device does not just have one customer. Hospitals, caregivers, patients, insurance companies and the Food and Drug Administration are all critically important, Kaye said.
Looking at the big picture, Kaye said medical-device companies should be paying more attention to sustainability issues — keeping in mind that their decisions have to make sense for the planet, people and profit, in order to be truly sustainable.
“Sustainability is all about health. That's the industry we're in,” Kaye said.
“We need to do more. We are one of the greatest polluters. We need to change how we do business.”