In honor of Earth Day, I thought I'd highlight the unexpectedly high carbon costs of activities in hospitals, specifically the cardiac catheterization laboratory.
A patient enters the cath lab. The groin is shaved using a plastic disposable razor, the site cleaned with a plastic sponge, then the site draped with an 8 ft by 5 ft composite paper and plastic material (to replace the old-fashioned, reusable cloth drapes). A multitude of plastic supplies are loaded onto the utility table, including plastic sheaths to insert into the femoral artery (which comes equipped with a plastic inner cannula and plastic stopcock), a multi-stopcock manifold that allows selective entry or removal of fluids through the sheath, a plastic syringe to inject x-ray dye, plastic tubing to connect all the devices (total of about 5 feet), and multiple plastic catheters (3 for a standard diagnostic catheterization, more if unusual arterial anatomy is encountered).
All these various pieces come packed in elaborate plastic (polyethylene terephthalate or other polymers) containers, which also come encased in cardboard packaging.
Should angioplasty, stenting, or similar procedure be undertaken, then more catheters are required, such as the plastic "guide" catheters that contain a larger internal lumen to allow passage of angioplasty equipment. An additional quantity of tubing is added to the manifold and stopcock apparatus, as well as a plastic Tuohy-Borst valve to permit rapid entry and exit of various devices into the sheath.
Several new packages of cardboard and plastic are opened which contain the angioplasty balloon, packaging which is usually about 4 feet in length. The stent likewise comes packaged in an 18-inch or so long package with its own elaborate cardboard and plastic housing.
At the conclusion of the procedure, another cardboard/plastic package is opened, this one containing the closure device consisting of several pieces of plastic tubes and tabs.
If the procedure is complicated, the number of catheters and devices used can quickly multiply several-fold.
By the conclusion of the procedure, there are usually two large, industrial-sized trash bins packed full of cardboard, plastic packaging, and discarded tubing and catheters. The trash is so plentiful that it is emptied following each and every procedure. None of it is recycled, given the contamination with human body fluids.
That's just one procedure. The amount of trash generated by these procedures is staggering, much of it plastic. I don't know how much of the U.S.'s annual plastic trash burden of 62 billion pounds (source: EPA ) originates from the the cath lab, but I suspect it is a big number in total.
So if you are truly interested in reducing your carbon footprint and doing your part to be "green," avoid a trip (or many) to the cath lab.