Every year, 4 billion pounds of waste are produced by health care facilities, and the amount continues to increase annually. In response, a movement toward greening health care has been building, with a particular focus on the operating room. Between 20% and 70% of health care waste originates from a hospital's operating room, and up to 90% of operating room waste is improperly sorted and sent for costly and unneeded hazardous waste processing. Recent successful changes include segregation of hospital waste, substitution of the ubiquitous polypropylene plastic wrap used for the sterilization and handling of surgical equipment with metal cases, and the reintroduction of reusable surgical gowns. Orthopedic-related changes include the successful reprocessing and reuse of external fixators, shavers, blades, burs, and tourniquets. These changes have been shown to be environmentally and economically beneficial. Early review indicates that these changes are feasible, but a need exists for further evaluation of the effect on the operating room and flow of the surgical procedure and of the risks to the surgeons and operating room staff. Other key considerations are the effects of reprocessed and reused equipment on patient care and outcome and the role of surgeons in helping patients make informed decisions regarding surgical care. The goals of this study were to summarize the amount and types of waste produced in hospitals and operating rooms, highlight the methods of disposal used, review disposal methods that have been developed to reduce waste and improve recycling, and explore future developments in greening health care.
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