Environmental Impact of Joint Replacement Surgery


Administrative Staff
Jun 11, 2013
United States United States
Thanks to member Bumpa for providing a link to this study information (June, 2022)

My joint replacement can impact the environment?


Joint replacements can greatly improve a patient’s quality of life. But did you ever think about the nearly 30 pounds of waste generated with each surgery?

Though healthcare is one of the largest sectors in the U.S., its environmental impacts have tended to fly under the radar. It accounts for 10% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and operating rooms generate 20-33% of total hospital waste. Researchers are only just beginning to track and understand the sector’s environmental impacts.

Among those researchers is a team at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) whose work focuses on orthopedic surgery as a particularly waste-heavy and energy-intensive specialty. The researchers from Pitt’s School of Medicine and the Swanson School of Engineering recently reviewed existing literature and found that while data is still sparse, efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of orthopedic surgery could make a huge impact.

Surgical suites have a high environmental impact because many of the items used are disposable products such as gowns, gloves, surgical instruments, and packaging. The team’s research goal will be to keep as many items as possible in circulation rather than relegating them to a landfill at the end of their lifecycle.

Changes such as using lower-emitting anesthesia, redesigning custom instrumentation packs, limiting single-use items and properly separating waste and recycling can make a significant difference. For example, using wide-awake hand surgery instead of sedative anesthesia, along with reducing the number of surgical supplies used for smaller procedures, has led to a decrease of 2.8 tons of waste and over $13,000 in supplies.

While thousands of articles are published in the field of orthopedic surgery each year, very few address the environment and sustainability. There is little doubt that the volume of waste created by orthopedic procedures means the orthopedic community needs to consider their role in becoming more sustainable.

Joint replacement surgeries are increasing worldwide. Dealing with the millions of tons of waste created each year from this surgery is a critical initiative.

BoneSmart will be following and continuing to report on the work of the team at UPMC and others who search for ways to reduce the impact of this waste on the planet.

“Environmental Sustainability in Orthopaedic Surgery” by Ian D. Engler, Andrew J. Curley, Freddie H. Fu and Melissa M. Bilec.was published in the June 1, 2022 Journal of the AAOS (DOI: 10.5435/JAAOS-D-21-01254).
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