Green/Sustainable Design in Medical Devices?

Hi Everyone,

I am a design engineer from Boston and spend most of my time designing medical devices of various types. I am looking to write an article on green/sustainable design in the medical device design world. This is, sadly, an area which the medical device world has ignored for decades. Take a walk behind a hospital some time and look at the number of dumpsters of medical waste that produced every day, indeed, every hour. Its staggering.

I am looking for a little help. Can anyone think of any medical products that they would like to share that are especially good or especially bad in terms of green/sustainable design? And when I say medical, its anything that is regulated by the FDA, from catheters to toothbrushes, defribulators to insulin pens.

That and does anyone have opinions on this topic? And am in the research phase of this article so any comments, opinions or ideas would be welcome. I have my own, but its always good to hear what others have to say.

Thanks for any help you can give.



As if you are looking for the answer to a riddle…

The syringe! You have to throw it away and can’t or should not use it twice. There. It is both good and bad at the same time.

You make a great point about the syringe. It is an incredible the amount of waste that syringe housing and sharps create. Its a tricky little device though. How do you create a syringe that can be safe for the patient and the handlers (doctors, nurses, waste disposal people, etc) and yet eco-friendly?

I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I think I may have a few options for solutions. I’m still working on them but I will keep you updated…


It seems to me that the syringe is disposable for a very very good reason, and that the only place for innovation would be in the material choices used in their production. Perhaps some kind of reclamation program for syringe bodies/sharps that can be sterilized or recycled or something. Not only does the disposablilty protect the patient, it also provides a certain peace of mind knowing that there is no chance of contamination. Perhaps not a problem, but an opportunity…


Great question - and one I’ve been thinking about a lot myself. I’m currently working on a project that is supposed to use recyclable materials for a design of my choice (cans, old tires etc…)… medical recycling was at the top of the list - mostly focused on biotech.

So far, my research has found that there is plenty of waste out there - pipettes, holders, sequencing materials, etc… however, reclaiming it is difficult. Since a lot of the waste is considered a health hazard, the process to recycle is costly and complicated. I’m no expert in this area by any means, but after interviewing two local hospitals and two biotech firms, I’ve found that they pay a pretty penny to have these materials disposed of by specialized companies - and that these companies have little or no motivation to work with someone like me, who wishes to develop better and more recyclable products. Short sighted, really, as I think they would do quite well by attacking some new processes, not to mention good karma.

You can imagine the sterilization procedure to reuse materials… Think of how much heat a prion can take :slight_smile:

Drop me a PM if you want, I’d love to chat. I have many questions, and am heading down this path as quick as possible over the next month

A couple of items to consider:

1_ Pippette ends. I saw, literally, mounds of them being thrown away. All plastic, but much of it not recyclable due to material used and procedures. I was told high temp plastics (to withstand an autoclave), but I haven’t confirmed this.

2_ Disposable thermometer tips. Biohazard, and generated in such great numbers that the waste management folks at the hospital told me they dispose of several hundred per day!


Specialk, have you written that article?

If not, I would be interested in contributing, as I have just started up a Sustainable Design Club at Cardinal Health. We make a lot of stuff.

Each day, Cardinal Health:

  • Manufactures or packages more than 500 million doses of pharmaceuticals (6,000 per second)
  • Helps caregivers dispense more than 5 million doses of medicine
  • Manufactures more than four million medical/surgical products
  • Makes more than 50,000 deliveries of pharmaceutical and medical/surgical products