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Sustainability

Earth Day 2024 Greener Healthcare Technology - blog feature image

Earth Day 2024: Looking Towards Greener Healthcare Technology

Length: 7-minute read.

Quick summary: This is the first in our series of articles examining the environmental impact of medical device manufacturing and the role that companies like Magnetica play in leading the way towards more sustainable medical technology.


Earth Day 2024: Planet vs Plastics

Earth Day 2024: Planet vs Plastics – AI-generated image of a sea turtle wearing a surgical mask surrounded by medical and plastic pollution.

Last week, the world celebrated its 54th annual Earth Day. Every year since 1970, on April 22nd, Earth Day shines a global spotlight on sustainability and the environmental impact humans have on our planet.  The idea was originally coined in Wisconsin by a small group of activists, and whilst Earth Day may have had humble beginnings, today, it inspires millions of people across the globe to think and act responsibly about environmental conservation.

Every year, the Earth Day organisers identify a theme, highlighting significant areas of concern affecting our planet. For Earth Day 2024, they selected “Planet vs Plastics.” The theme encompasses several pillars, focusing on the effects of plastics on the environment and human health.

Several issues need to be addressed when discussing plastics and our planet. We know that plastic production has devastating repercussions, including:

  • toxic emissions and spills contributing to issues related to global warming
  • pollution of waterways and ecosystems
  • threats to human health as plastics break down into easily inhaled and digested microplastics containing harmful toxins and chemicals
  • over-production of synthetic garments and clothing that inevitably end up in landfills.

As a stand-alone issue, it is widely accepted that plastic pollution has a tragic effect on the wildlife inhabiting ecosystems and waterways. For instance, as of 2018, more than 11.1 billion plastic particles were entangling the corals across 159 Asia-Pacific reefs, increasing alarmingly yearly[1].

We also know that more than 500 billion plastic bags were produced globally last year.[2]

The Medical Industry Embracing Eco-Friendly Technologies

You may wonder what plastic pollution has to do with the medical industry, particularly medical device manufacturing. According to a recent journal article, titled “Health care’s climate footprint: the health sector contribution and opportunities for action”, the healthcare sector accounts for 4.4 per cent of global net greenhouse emissions and toxic air pollutants, with 71 per cent derived from the supply chain and manufacturing. [3] These are alarming figures, with microplastics being one of four main considerations, as summarised below:

  1. The impact emissions and the ingestion of microplastics have on human health.
  2. The threat that climate change poses to our quality of life and the sustainability of our planet.
  3. How the manufacturing and decontamination of medical devices, PPE, consumables, and single-use plastics contribute to pollution.
  4. The rate at which the medical industry consumes non-renewable resources to manufacture, power and operate equipment and devices.

Reflecting on these issues, it becomes clear that the medical industry is a crucial effector and should be pivotal in leading the way towards global sustainability.  Since the industry is at the forefront of innovation and technology, prioritising environmental impact and eco-friendly solutions in our manufacturing processes makes sense. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword; today, it is essential.

Earth Day 2024: It’s Not Just About Plastics

Although this year’s Earth Day theme focused on the detrimental effects of plastics and microplastics, it is important to point out that our planet is threatened by many and varied impacts.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Health Organisation recognise this. They release an annual report examining the multitude of issues contributing to climate change and providing recommendations for pathways to global mitigation for policymakers worldwide. In the most recent report, a serious call to action addressed the healthcare sector’s impact on ecology. It identified several opportunities to reduce healthcare’s carbon footprint, including:

  • more efficient infrastructure
  • harnessing renewable fuel and energy sources
  • reducing the use of non-renewable energy sources (for instance, helium) and energy consumption
  • utilising more sustainable supply-chain practices[4].

Sustainable Practices in Medical Imaging

Conceptual image of a superconducting magnet in a lush green, outdoor environment.

A recent journal article mapped out a typical lifecycle of medical devices and equipment, from design and manufacture to disposal, highlighting critical areas and challenges the healthcare sector faces. Overcoming contamination and infection control is complicated, leading to the industry’s prolific use of single-use and consumable items. These are often made of plastic and disposed of in ways that end their lifecycle in landfills – the issue highlighted by this year’s Earth Day theme. The article emphasises the need for ecological considerations at every stage of the manufacturing process, including the end-user[5]

Researchers are increasingly considering sustainability practices in radiology, recognising medical imaging technologies’ contributions to global emissions. One such example is this 2023 article, which attributes four MRI and three CT scanners to consuming 4 per cent of one hospital’s total energy consumption and reveals that a single full-body MRI scanner, averaging 4141 patients annually, expends the same energy as 25.8 four-person households[6].

In addition, most MRI systems consume energy to constantly cool the helium required for their high-powered magnets, even when the system is not being proactively used to image patients. Here, we realise two substantial environmental issues affecting MRI systems:

1. High energy consumption

2. The use of helium, a completely non-renewable resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. In fact, by the end of 2021, the MRI industry represented a 32 per cent share of all helium consumed each year globally [7].

In its report, the IPCC identified an opportunity for the healthcare sector to reduce its environmental impact by addressing these concerns.

Encouragingly, a solution to both issues does exist – in the form of MRI systems that harness cryogen-free superconducting magnet technologies.

Addressing the Environmental Impact of MRI

Advanced dry magnet technology eliminates the need for liquid helium, conserving the precious, non-renewable resource. It also reduces energy consumption  (demonstrated by the Philips BlueSeal magnet in their whole-body systems) and the environmental impact of helium extraction and usage. In doing so, these systems exemplify how technology can be both high-performing and environmentally conscious.

In future articles in this series, we will examine the depth of helium-reliant technologies’ impact on sustainability in medical imaging and MRI and the excessive energy consumption that radiology equipment contributes to. We will consider why incorporating dry (liquid helium-free) superconducting magnets into MRI systems addresses these issues and could improve sustainability in the medical imaging sector.

Liquid helium-free magnet technology is one step toward driving medical equipment manufacturers to meet environmental standards. By embracing such technologies, the healthcare sector can play a pivotal role in mitigating its environmental impact, setting a precedent for other industries, and bringing about the catalyst for change that movements such as Earth Day promote.

Learn more about Magnetica’s 3T MR system that harnesses liquid helium-free technology here.

CTA image – discover Magnetica’s 3T MR system that harnesses liquid helium-free technology.


References:

  1. Earthday.org. (2022, March 5). Fact Sheet: Plastics in the Ocean. Fact Sheet: Plastics in the Ocean – Earth Day ↩︎
  2. Earthday.org. (2024). Planet vs. Plastics Global Theme for Earth Day 2024. Planet vs. Plastics – Earth Day ↩︎
  3. Karliner, J., Slotterback, S., Boyd, R., Ashby, B., Steele, K., & Wang, J. (2020). Health care’s climate footprint: the health sector contribution and opportunities for action. European Journal of Public HealthVolume 30 (Supplement_5). https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/ckaa165.843 ↩︎
  4. IPCC. (2023). Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2023: Synthesis report. Contribution of Working Groups, I, II and III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Core Writing Team, H. Lee, & J. Romero, Eds.; pp. 35–115). IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, pp. 1-34, doi: 10.59327/IPCC/AR6-9789291691647.001. https://doi.org/10.59327/IPCC/AR6-9789291691647 ↩︎
  5. Hinrichs, S., Diehl, J. C., Hunfeld, N., & Van Raaij, E. M. (2022). Towards sustainability for medical devices and consumables: The radical and incremental challenges in the technology ecosystem. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, 27(4), 253–254. https://doi.org/10.1177/13558196221110416 ↩︎
  6. Mariampillai, J., Rockall, A., Manuellian, C., Cartwright, S., Taylor, S., Deng, M., & Sheard, S. (2023). The green and sustainable radiology department. Die grüne und nachhaltige Radiologieabteilung. Radiologie (Heidelberg, Germany)63(Suppl 2), 21–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00117-023-01189-6 ↩︎
  7. Statisitca.com. (2023, October 30). Distribution of helium consumption worldwide as of 2021, by end use. Helium consumption distribution worldwide by end use 2021 | Statista ↩︎

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