Sustainability and Medical Device Design
As the need for sustainability grows louder, the design of medical devices will need to find ways to reduce the effects on the environment dramatically. For single-use applications, this is particularly so. The type of material used and the amount of energy needed at different stages of processing, transport, and disposal are definitely important factors influencing sustainability. But sustainability can also be strengthened easily by the clever use of design. Here are a few ways of doing that:
- Minimize the amount of plastic resin used by the product through clever design of the shape/feature.
- To minimize the energy needed for transporting it, build the product to be as small and light as possible. Also, consider ways to build the shape such that packed devices can be transported as little as possible in a footprint.
- Disassembly style, so that parts can be recycled or composted.
- Enable the biohazard area to be isolated from the rest of the unit in order to increase recyclability.
What does sustainability mean for medical device design?
The sustainability agenda forces companies in every sector to take a more holistic view of their operations; this not only means looking at the product itself for medical devices, how it is made, the materials used, etc but also at a much broader picture, from the energy required to manufacture the raw materials to the impact of various logistical requirements, such as cold chain storage. A sustainable product needs to fulfil economic, ecological and social demands if we look at sustainability solely from the design perspective. It implies that when determining the potential of a commodity, we can’t only consider short-term financial drivers. The industry would likely be forced to concentrate on goals other than safety, effectiveness, and robustness. In order to encourage sustainability, it can also mean regulatory standards being changed.This is important because, in terms of disposal and recycling, a sustainable product must account for its ecological impact, the broader picture above, but these costs are not yet factored into development budgets or market pricing in our industry, always making the ‘issue of someone else’ environmental impact.
But without the power of law, all this is meaningless. Sustainability without regulation is actually enlightened self-interest, or otherwise considered a restriction that makes it more difficult to justify the pursuit of sustainability in a highly competitive market place.