What is the status of environmentally friendly infection control?

A new era of developing strategies and marketing products designed to address environmental issues is rapidly expanding into multiple areas of infection control. Early investigations, especially those assessing the extent of waste in hospitals, helped to increase awareness of the accumulated toll in landfills. One study found that care for the average hospitalized patient could generate an average of 15 pounds of waste per day, leading to major costs in waste removal and usage of landfill space. Many hospitals and other health care facilities took the initiative to correct this problem by using approaches which include initiating programs that use more recyclables and reusable items, and looking for products that reduce the amount of disposable waste.

“Green dentistry” has also become more than merely a slogan in the profession. A number of established and newer companies have entered this area and are focusing on the use of disposable items. Widespread  use of  disposable covers, tips, traps, instrument wraps, pouches, and other items has helped to streamline infection control with regard to time and reprocessing efforts in practice settings.

Advances in research into the cost effective manufacture of recyclable and biodegradable plastic and paper items appear to be accelerating, with the hope that what was once destined for deposit in landfills may now be recycled and used again, in a similar way that aluminum cans are reprocessed. More plastic wraps and covers that are frequently used are now manufactured as biodegradable.

This technology has also made its appearance into the areas of instrument reprocessing and environmental surface disinfection. Available solutions used with clean contaminated instruments prior to heat sterilization can now contain multiple enzymes to enhance removal of bioburden. These components are biodegradable, thereby preventing  introduction of potentially harmful chemicals into ground water. Even relatively recent applications of environmental surface disinfectant solutions and wipes are seeing continued progress towards reducing chemical waste. Tuberculocidal disinfectant preparations that are less harmful to the environment, even biodegradable, are already available. In addition, as more people look to approaches for reducing plastic waste, be prepared for the availability of disinfectant wipe packets which are manufactured as refills in reusable plastic containers.

There are a number of web sites and organizations available to provide additional information and current developments in this area. Two informative groups to initially consult can be found at www.ecodentistry.org and www.osap.org.