Are single-use dental items a burden on the environment?

plasticThe dental industry needs to ask itself whether it’s time to stop using single-use plastics, Neel Kothari says.

For some time now, the dental profession has tacitly accepted that single-use plastic items are superior to their reusable counterparts, despite the logical inconsistency that at the point of use, reusable and autoclavable items have been through a sterilisation process, whereas often single-use plastics are delivered in a non-sterile state.

Whilst their advocates point to increased patient safety, there is very little evidence to demonstrate a tangible difference or that within dentistry reusable items do in fact lead to patient harm.

I appreciate that it may be prudent to adopt additional measures for elevated risk scenarios such as minor oral surgery, but is this really needed for most dental procedures?

And is this contributing to what is already an environmental crisis?

Read more from Neel Kothari:

Ban on single-use plastics

An ever-increasing number of countries and organisations have pledged to ban single-use plastics in recognition of the harm they cause to our environment, particularly towards marine life, which according to the UN is facing ‘irreparable damage’ from the millions of tonnes of plastic waste ending up in the oceans each year.

Researchers from the University of Ghent in Belgium believe Europeans currently consume up to 11,000 pieces of plastic in their food each year.

According to their unpublished study, fewer than 60 of these are likely to be absorbed, however they may accumulate over time, leading to concerns about toxicity and potential immune responses by the body.

Whilst clinical waste gets incinerated and generally leads to reductions in volume for landfill space, the environmental impact of single use plastics extends beyond merely its disposal.

All parts of the plastic lifecycle, including production and distribution, carry an environmental burden.

In my opinion, we urgently need further research into dental cross infection measures to help guide informed choices.

Industry input from manufacturers with a vested interest in selling ‘stock’ needs to be excluded and the purported benefits of single-use items need to be weighed up against the environmental costs that will be accumulating for future generations.

There are certainly no easy answers, but with the significant increases in dental waste production following a move towards more single-use items, the dental industry needs to reflect upon its policies and ask itself if it’s time to change.

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