The health care industry in the United States has a significant impact on the environment. Modern medicine can achieve extraordinary successes but at the cost of a serious pollution problem. If this sector were a country, it would be the seventh-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Doctors and dentists all across the country are coming together to help fight climate change. Many of the individuals involved recognize that chronic health ailments, like asthma and allergies, are worsening due to a warming climate. They believe health care should be heavily invested in a greener and healthier world.
From providing economic support for renewable energy and environmental policy groups to finding alternatives for single-use plastic, here are a few ways the medical community is trying to help our environment.
1. Community Advocacy
Doctors are in a position to affect change, simply by their title. There is a certain level of trust that society holds for people who spend their lives dedicated to helping others. Doctors across practices are using their position of power to advocate for sustainable change. From suggesting healthy living alternatives to making small changes around the office, community advocacy is one way that medical professionals are spreading the news about saving the planet.
2. Single-Use Plastic Alternatives
Modern medicine is safer and more sterile than ever. Before the invention of plastic, personal protective equipment and certain technologies did not exist. Today, the medical industry produces an unimaginable amount of plastic waste. Just think of each pair of gloves worn, as well as each mask and gown. Larger equipment, like dialysis machines and ventilators, also use large amounts of plastic and are more difficult to recycle.
Many doctors and dentists advocate for eco-friendly alternatives, such as recycled plastic covers for tables and the use of reusable mats and other necessities.
3. Biodegradable Cleaners and Disinfectants
Medical offices have a distinct smell, which mostly comes from the use of powerful disinfectants. While these cleaners are essential to keeping patients safe and discouraging the spread of bacteria and viruses, they can also be harmful to human and animal health. Many medical-grade cleaners contribute to indoor air pollution, irritating airways and making patients feel light-headed.
Once the cleaners are disposed of, they can stay in the environment indefinitely, harming animals and polluting water and soil. In an attempt to go green, several medical communities are transitioning their supply chain to more eco-friendly options, including biodegradable disinfectants.
4. Amalgam Separators
While you may not equate the dentist’s office with environmental pollution, there is one substance there that is particularly toxic. Mercury is often used in dental amalgams or cavity fillings. While it can be quite effective at preventing tooth decay, it is very harmful to the environment.
Many dentist offices have one wastewater line, meaning mercury waste ends up in water treatment plants. However, new technology is working to filter out mercurial waste before it leaves the office. By installing amalgam separators, dentists can filter out toxic pollution and minimize its impact on the environment.
5. Digital Marketing
Health care is an industry, and most doctors and dentists rely on some form of marketing to make money. Hospitals, private practices and specialty operations all need a way to reach customers. However, the traditional method of advertising, using large amounts of paper, is extremely resource-intensive.
For this reason, many medical operations are transitioning to digital marketing. This can involve targeting certain audiences that may require specific services, like parents whose children attend day care and may be looking for a pediatrician. Digital marketing may be more effective than the traditional kind, and it’s much less wasteful.
6. Financial Divestment
Medical professionals are aware that health care has the economic power to shift from a fossil fuel economy to a renewable one. For example, Kaiser Permanente and Boston Medical Group have promised to transition to renewable energy in the next few years. These plans are significant because health care uses a lot of fossil fuel, and relying on renewable energy like solar makes a difference in the industry’s economic power.
By supporting more sustainable alternatives, medical professionals can help build a greener economy.
7. Healthy Living Initiatives
Doctors and dentists witness firsthand the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, climate change and human health are inextricably linked. A diet high in processed meat not only is bad for your heart health, but it also contributes to rising greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation due to growing livestock operations. Medical professionals are in a unique position to incentivize healthy lifestyles that help people physically and affect their impact on the environment.
A Healthier Future
The health care industry plays a role in current environmental problems and their solutions. Climate change affects human health, and medical workers are at the forefront of issues like rising asthma rates due to poor air quality and cardiovascular disease due to inadequate diets. Dentists and doctors are taking steps to help the environment and their patients by advocating for sustainable change, diverting funds away from fossil fuel companies and incorporating eco-friendly practices into their daily operations.