TV News Touts Canada’s Progress in Reducing Medical Waste

Posted May 17, 2024 at 1:29 pm

The Global Television Network, Canada’s leading English-language TV network, recently aired a prime-time news segment on its nightly Global National news program on the need to reduce hospital waste, including personal protective equipment (PPE) such as disposable isolation gowns.

News journalist Eric Sorensen, noted that while McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, provides lifesaving services, it also produces three tons of waste per day. These include disposable “single-use” surgical instruments, as well as disposable gloves, masks and single-use isolation gowns.

The hospital management there and in many other healthcare institutions across Canada are embracing the need for more reusable items, including gowns, which can undergo up to 75 “turns” or uses before retirement. The news broadcast included footage from Ecotex Healthcare Linen Service’s laundry in Abbotsford, British Columbia, which processes thousands of reusable iso gowns daily. A Vancouver-based crew from Global News also interviewed Ecotex President and CEO Bryan Bartsch. He noted that Ecotex is working with suppliers to maximize the service life of all reusable textiles. “We have focused a lot on innovating with our suppliers and finding ways that we can have longer-lasting, more functional textiles,” he said during the segment. The evening broadcast on May 9 noted that Canada’s government-run healthcare system also is leveraging its resources to push supplier companies to operate more sustainably. Bartsch added that, “This drives decision making for companies like ourselves to step up and be a part of the solution to help make healthcare more sustainable in the future.”

In a follow-up interview with Textile Services Weekly, Randy Bartsch, the chair of Ecotex, said the use of reusable PPE in Canadian hospitals and clinics is significantly higher than that of the U.S., which uses roughly 80% single-use disposable iso gowns, according to recent studies (click here and here for details). The reasons for Canada’s favorable view of reusable PPE reflects a contrast in public attitudes, says Randy, who is also vice chair of TRSA. Specifically, Canadians are more focused on the need to reduce waste, he says.

In addition to its four Canadian facilities, Ecotex operates six healthcare plants in the U.S. serving hospitals in 10 western and midwestern states. In Canada, Randy said hospital administrators are more committed to waste reduction. “I think what’s interesting is that individuals in healthcare in Canada have taken the call to reduce waste in medical facilities and to ‘green’ the OR (operating room),” he said. “That’s kind of the theme that everybody’s uniting around. It’s taken seriously.” The support for reusables in Canadian healthcare institutions is broad based, including in medical schools, he added. “You’ve got surgeons, nurse practitioners and everybody, all of the clinicians in hospitals, and the teaching hospitals that are connected with them, have integrated reusables and waste-reduction into their curriculum, which I think is unbelievably important.” This kind of emphasis by healthcare professionals can reinforce public awareness of hospital waste and the need for reusables. “It’s those things that I think move the ball on public opinion and build momentum.”

By contrast, people in the U.S. seem less focused on reusables, Randy said. This stems in part from aggressive marketing by the manufacturers of disposables, plus the polarization surrounding environmental issues in the U.S. Those include attitudes toward climate change and what policies are necessary or effective for reducing greenhouse gasses.

Randy advised U.S. healthcare operators seeking to grow the market share of reusable PPE to cite cost savings as well as conservation when discussing this topic. Should openings emerge, forge ahead vigorously. “I think the lesson would be that when doors open to you, boldly go through them and seize the opportunities,” he said. “This is something that we fundamentally believe in, in all of our markets.”

More often, he said U.S. launderers have favored the “stick” approach of lobbying for regulatory or legislative mandates that require hospitals to adopt set percentages of reusable PPE. That’s not bad, Randy says, but “It would be better if the healthcare community embraced the positive benefit of waste reduction, which by itself acknowledges the efficacy of reusable textiles.” As for Canada, healthcare officials have expanded the use of reusables on a strictly voluntary basis, he says.

Click here to see the Global National news broadcast segment on reusables vs. disposables in Canadian healthcare.