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Life cycle assessment of Swiss hospitals - new study proves marginal impact of disposable materials
April 2023

The use of healthcare services accounts for more than five percent of Switzerland's consumption-related greenhouse gas emissions. A significant portion of those five percent are borne by hospitals. With the "Green Hospital" study, a team of researchers from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW compiled the first life cycle assessment of the Swiss hospital system. Catering, building infrastructure, heating and electricity proved to be the most environmentally relevant hospital areas. On average, they contribute around 67 percent of the climate impact and hold the greatest potential for more environmentally efficient healthcare delivery. In contrast, disposable materials, including single-use equipment, have surprisingly little impact on a hospital's environmental footprint. Accodring to the study the production of these materials contributes to only 3 percent of the carbon footprint. Indirectly, disposable materials also lead to more waste, which together with wastewater, however, only accounts for around 4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

This study thus puts into perspective the frequently raised criticism of the sustainability of disposable materials, which are becoming increasingly popular in hospitals due to price advantages and sterility. In the context of hospitals, and especially in the case of instruments in the operating room, it is therefore not necessarily the case that reusable materials are more environmentally friendly than disposable materials, as these require resource-intensive sterilization, which also has a negative impact on the ecological footprint. To adequately compare the environmental footprint of single-use materials and reusable materials in the operating room, further studies are needed to provide more clarity regarding the ecological impact of resource-intensive sterilization. As sustainable entrepreneurs, we are aware of our responsibility and follow with curiosity further research projects and investigations in the field of sustainability of the hospital industry.

Keller, R; Muir, K; Roth, F; Jattke, M;  Stucki, M. (2021). From bandages to buildings: Identifying the environmental hotspots of hospitals. Journal of Cleaner Production, 319 (128479).

Keller, R. (2021). Die Klimabilanz von Spitälern - wo sind die Hebel?. OEKOSKOP 2/21, Fachzeitschrift der Ärztinnen und Ärzte für Umweltschutz (AefU)

Meili, M. (2021, 03. Oktober). Die Ökobilanz der Spitäler. NZZ am Sonntag.

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