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Closed-Loop System for Medical Devices Saves Utah Orgs $250K, Diverts 60K Lbs of Waste

Click here to view enlarged image. | Image credit: Ethicon and Intermountain Healthcare

From waste management to construction to apparel, circular economy models are gaining attention and proving effective in numerous industries. Even those in healthcare – an industry that requires the highest level of uncompromising performance – are beginning to re-evaluate linear product lifecycles. Surgical technology company Ethicon and Utah-based not-for-profit health system Intermountain Healthcare have implemented a product-level circular system to deliver on joint sustainability, financial and clinical goals.

To be presented at the CleanMed Conference tomorrow, the organizations have developed a brief case study on their project’s success. A More Circular System: Striving for a Comprehensive Approach to Measuring Sustainability Performance reveals that without compromising on quality and service critical to clinical adoption, the organizations were able to close the loop for select medical devices.

Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson company, developed the Performance Certified HARMONIC® Program as a new approach to reprocessing that provides consistent device performance, continuity of supply and products, and solutions that help support health care facilities’ sustainability and economic objectives. In simpler terms, the devices are sterilely reprocessed “to the original equipment manufacture standards, so they are essentially new, and we can then reuse them again and again,” Dr. Mark Off, chief medical director of the central region of Intermountain Healthcare, explained to Triple Pundit.

These life-saving devices usually end up contributing to the industry’s regulated medical waste (RMW) stream, which translates to a cost of $5,243 per operating room according to Practice Greenhealth’s 2015 Sustainability Benchmark Report. The average operating room produces 5.4 tons of RMW per year.


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Partnerships are crucial to the program’s success; Ethicon partnered with medical waste collection company Stericycle to improve and streamline device collections, and works closely with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and customers alike. In doing so, the company aims to drive sustainability impact at scale to achieve better economic and environmental outcomes.

Tim Lessek, Senior Marketing Manager at Ethicon, described the collaborative effort as “one that increases the economic attractiveness of keeping quality materials in the system through this comprehensive collections program, significant environmental impact and economic savings — delivering what is best for the patient, the provider and the manufacturer.”

Ethicon and Intermountain Healthcare were able to report the following results from 2014:

  • 260,966 units of devices diverted from landfills;
  • 59,964 pounds of waste reduced from landfills;
  • 35,978 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions reduced;
  • 1,858 gallons of gasoline saved.

Furthermore, Intermountain Healthcare recognized savings of approximately $250,000 on core HARMONIC portfolio devices (the Harmonic FOCUS®+ and Harmonic ACE®+), or nearly 22 percent on its total spending of $1.1 million.

In their report, Ethicon and Intermountain Healthcare cite a study from 2012 that estimated savings from sustainability efforts at $15 billion over 10 years for the healthcare sector. It is a modest study to source, given that including recycling and reducing packaging were main factors in estimating savings from waste reduction. Ethicon and Intermountain Healthcare’s achievements undoubtedly lend to the mounting business case for the circular economy, and suggest that much greater savings can be realized in the healthcare sector without compromising on quality.


Hannah Furlong is one of Sustainable Brands's Contributing Writers, based in Canada. She is researching the circular economy as a Master's student in Sustainability Management at the University of Waterloo and holds a Bachelor's in Environment and Business Co-op. Hannah… [Read more about Hannah Furlong]