How ener­gy is gen­er­at­ed from dis­pos­able sur­gi­cal textiles

The eco­log­i­cal­ly sound dis­pos­al of sur­gi­cal drapes and gowns is an impor­tant part of effi­cient hos­pi­tal waste man­age­ment. Dis­pos­able sur­gi­cal drapes and coats are very suit­able for ther­mal recy­cling: they have a par­tic­u­lar­ly high calorif­ic val­ue, and the ener­gy released is used to gen­er­ate heat and energy.

Eco­log­i­cal action for dis­pos­able sur­gi­cal drapes and gowns begins with pur­chas­ing and ends with appro­pri­ate dis­pos­al. A new expert paper of the “Ini­tia­tive Sicher­heit im OP” (SIOP) pro­vides infor­ma­tion on this top­ic. Wern­er Grob­bauer, MSc, an expert in sus­tain­able waste and ener­gy man­age­ment, one of the paper’s sci­en­tif­ic advi­sors, cites dis­pos­able sur­gi­cal drapes and gowns as an envi­ron­men­tal plus:

  • They are always new, there­fore no repro­cess­ing and re-ster­il­iza­tion is necessary.
  • Saves deter­gent and water through sin­gle use.
  • High calorif­ic val­ue, there­fore par­tic­u­lar­ly suit­able for ther­mal recy­cling (“waste to energy”).

“Ener­gy from waste saves fos­sil fuels,” adds Ing. Bern­hard Bogn­er, plant man­ag­er of the Dürn­rohr waste recy­cling plant. “Con­ser­va­tion of resources, reduc­tion of emis­sions and the green­house effect, increased air qual­i­ty in the region and an improve­ment in the CO2 bal­ance are the result.”

Avoid pack­ag­ing waste, reduce costs

The Wels-Grieskirchen Clin­ic, with around 30 med­ical depart­ments, has been using sur­gi­cal pack­ages with dis­pos­able cov­ers for some time. Markus Schmid­hu­ber (Pur­chas­ing) on his com­pa­ny’s expe­ri­ence: “This not only avoid­ed pack­ag­ing waste, but also reduced both the process costs in the OR and the actu­al costs com­pared to work­ing with indi­vid­ual com­po­nents. In terms of eco­nom­ic effi­cien­cy and addi­tion­al waste avoid­ance, it is impor­tant to only have prod­ucts in the OR pack­age that are actu­al­ly used and do not have to be discarded.”

For a hos­pi­tal of this size, there is great poten­tial in waste avoid­ance, says Wolf­gang See, the hos­pi­tal’s waste and haz­ardous mate­ri­als offi­cer: “Going green means very com­plex process­es. For exam­ple, we only use dis­pos­able sur­gi­cal drapes and coats, which are very suit­able for ther­mal recy­cling and ener­gy gen­er­a­tion due to their high calorif­ic value.”

“Resid­ual waste sim­i­lar to house­hold waste”

The major­i­ty of dis­pos­able sur­gi­cal drapes and gowns fall into the cat­e­go­ry of “waste with­out risk of injury”. Accord­ing to the stan­dard, such waste can be treat­ed as “resid­ual waste sim­i­lar to house­hold waste” if it is pack­aged in liq­uid-tight, opaque, sealed bags that are safe for transport.

Wern­er Grob­bauer, MSc, the hos­pi­tal’s exter­nal envi­ron­men­tal and ener­gy offi­cer, explains how dis­pos­al works at the Elis­a­bethi­nen Hos­pi­tal in Graz: “At the Elis­a­bethi­nen Hos­pi­tal in Graz, dis­pos­able sur­gi­cal tex­tiles (approx. 5,000 kilograms/year) are col­lect­ed dai­ly in a ten-cubic-metre press con­tain­er togeth­er with waste that can only pose a risk of infec­tion or injury with­in the med­ical area, in accor­dance with ÖNORM. An autho­rized and cer­ti­fied dis­pos­al com­pa­ny emp­ties the con­tain­er week­ly. Ther­mal recov­ery of med­ical non-haz­ardous waste SN 91704 takes place in approved ther­mal waste recov­ery plants in Austria.”

Karl Freuden­thaler (Freuden­thaler GmbH & Co KG, Inz­ing) adds: “From an eco­log­i­cal point of view, the most impor­tant thing is to trans­port the waste from the dis­pos­al com­pa­ny’s site to the incin­er­a­tion plant in a way that is as green­house gas-neu­tral as pos­si­ble (rail trans­port) with opti­mised con­tain­er weight.

Sol­id incin­er­a­tion residues can be used in a vari­ety of ways in some cases

A sub­stan­tial part of the sol­id incin­er­a­tion residues can be recov­ered in a usable form (e.g. met­als, gyp­sum) or in a qual­i­ty sim­i­lar to build­ing mate­ri­als (e.g. stones and sand, sin­tered slag, sin­tered ash­es as glassy gran­u­late) if the appro­pri­ate process tech­nol­o­gy is used.

Click here for the full text of the expert paper: SIOP Pub­li­ca­tions