Holly Gamage, Clean Earth

The Value of Properly Managing and Reducing Waste in the MedTech Industry

By Holly Gamage
Holly Gamage, Clean Earth

It is critical for leaders in the medtech space to ensure that nonviable medical devices and equipment are destroyed properly, while focusing on long-term sustainability goals.

In the medical technology industry, brand protection is of the utmost importance. A continuous key focus for leaders in this space is ensuring devices and materials that are not viable for consumer or business use do not end up in the wrong hands. When new versions of technology are introduced and older versions are phased out, materials are deemed defective, or there is an overstock of supply, industry leaders must have the assurance that items are properly destroyed. This is critical to not only uphold brand protection but to also reduce and eliminate the potential risk and liability associated with these items landing on the black market or being used inappropriately.

In addition, environmental sustainability also continues to be a priority for the healthcare community and medtech innovators. This industry has the opportunity to advance sustainability from design inception through product end-of-life for medical devices and equipment. To support the organization on its journey to properly managing and reducing waste, which ultimately impacts brand reputation, it is important to find a sustainability partner who shares the organization’s long-term vision.

Importance of Risk Avoidance

The concept of “cradle to grave” states that a generator is responsible for its waste from generation to ultimate disposal. If an incident happens to occur at any point during the waste’s lifecycle, the generator will ultimately be held liable. It is possible this may result in financial penalties, not to mention poor brand reputation and harm to the environment and people.

At the base of every sustainability program should be strong compliance and risk avoidance. A sustainability partner should not only ensure programs are developed to uphold compliance with all environmental regulations—they should focus on the future, keeping brands from risk and expensive costs down the line, and putting the organization’s best interest first. A partner should not only be able to build a sustainability program; they should also have a team of compliance experts to support it.

In the medical technology industry specifically, a partner must place significance on security and risk avoidance. It is important to find a partner to prevent product diversion and guarantee all appropriate materials are destroyed or recycled in accordance with customer requirements. A partner should closely track the product to ensure it is rendered unusable and is properly recycled or disposed. A Certificate of Destruction (COD) should be sought from the destruction facility to document the receipt and destruction of non-viable waste. These steps aid in risk avoidance and prevent products from a black market sale. In some cases, an escort or witness is even necessary during the recycling or disposal process to ensure the material reaches its destination.

Upholding Sustainability Goals

Medical technology providers must understand their sustainability footprint and how all technology and related materials are being reduced, reused and/or recycled, from glucose meters to surgical devices, pregnancy test kits, large pieces of diagnostic equipment and more. Beyond risk avoidance, an experienced vendor partner can drive the organization toward its sustainability goals. Many medical devices have recyclable materials and components, such as circuit boards, batteries, housing and cords. A recycling plan should include driving higher levels of sustainability and increasing the percentage of materials that can be recycled.

Vetting a Partner

A vendor partner’s experience is vital, as they should offer experience in all aspects sustainability and waste management. It is not uncommon to find that some disposal partners find sustainability to be of minimal importance. However, medical technology innovators need a partner who can put all pieces together to drive them on their sustainability journey.

Among the initial steps in vetting an ideal sustainability partner includes looking at the medical technology organization’s long-term goals and projections. To minimize waste or achieve zero waste and sustainability goals, companies should not be forced to choose services from a pre-set menu. Rather, the partner’s solution should be tailored to a specific organization’s waste journey and developed in alignment with its waste generation, sustainability goals and growth plans.

Enhanced tracking, reporting and data analysis of waste streams to monitor performance and measure against financial and corporate sustainability goals should also be a priority. Detailed data tracking and reporting should be provided to the frequency required by the organization, whether that is monthly, quarterly or annually. The amount of volume shipped, how the material is managed and where the material has gone for disposal and recycling should all be documented.

The partnership should be a long-term program, not simply a line-item pricing procurement model. It takes time to develop solutions that will bring a company to zero waste—there is not a uniform, standardized approach. From one medical device company to the next, there are different needs and different products and materials being generated. Additionally, almost every organization is at a different place on their sustainability journey. Some are just trying to get out of landfills and assure brand protection before they can begin to think about reducing materials, while others are challenged with accurate data and risk, and some are taking final steps toward achieving zero waste. A sustainability partner should have the experience to assist at any stage and move the organization forward.

The chosen third-party sustainability partner must take many considerations into account and look at all pieces of the puzzle. Finding a partner who can solve the very difficult challenge of making it easy to properly manage medical devices and equipment and all related materials is an easy thing to say, but a hard thing to do.

Additionally, a partner should have no limitations on the type of waste problem an organization needs to solve. It’s key to work together to find ways to make it easier to recycle, repurpose and/or reuse—or in some cases safely destroy—unusable or outdated components of a product. Medical device organizations need a partner who will take a hands-on, dedicated approach to recycling and beneficially reusing waste that would otherwise go into landfills, providing customized waste disposal and recycling solutions.

Instead of focusing on finding vendors, it’s more impactful to look for a long-term partner that’s committed to the journey to zero waste. What’s going to move the needle for sustainability initiatives is working with a vendor who understands the value of them being a partner for all products. Companies of any industry, including medtech, deserve a partner who is knowledgeable in all areas of waste management for the industry.

Benefits of Reducing Waste Streams

There are many advantages from a brand perspective to eliminate waste streams. While protecting the environment and consumers is the priority, also keep brand protection top of mind. There are major risks and negative outcomes that can result when organizations handle materials and products in a manner that does not ensure brand protection.

According to the 2019 “Sustainable Packaging Unwrapped” report, nearly 60% of consumers stated they’d be willing to pay more for sustainable and eco-friendly products. Additionally, 3 in 10 consumers shared that they don’t feel like they have the information needed to determine what packaging can be recycled. With this knowledge gap of what can or cannot be recycled is an opportunity for industry leaders to find a partner that exemplifies the value and importance of proper waste management, and what that means for people and the planet.

More individuals involved with the healthcare and medtech industries—be it leadership, staff, investors, etc.— care about the sustainability journey within the field, and how the industry focuses on sustainability goals, such as to produce less waste while increasing product reuse. So, for those in leadership positions, it’s key to find a waste solutions partner that builds a comprehensive long-term, compliant program to address sustainability goals while remaining sensitive to brand protection objectives. These actions can help steer the entire healthcare and medtech industry into a more sustainable future.

About The Author

Holly Gamage, Clean Earth