As someone who has gradually become more and more horrified by how much waste we generate in our society, especially one-use "disposables", I wince when I go to the doctor's office. Disposable garment, gloves, syringes, yada yada yada - everywhere. When they take your temperature, none of that disinfectant that made school nurse's thermometers taste so bad. Instead they put a plastic cover on the thermometer, and then throw it away. When I was in the hospital, I wound up taking home the pillow, because it was going to be tossed!
In many cases it isn't that these things couldn't be reused, it's that it's against regulations. Likewise, all kinds of medical equipment is replaced by higher tech models, just like in homes and offices. Fortunately there are organizations in place which are devoted to finding new homes in developing countries for all these discards, including all kinds of medical materials with expiration dates or other technical flaws, which are still perfectly functional. Given the tragically undersupplied state of hospitals in the developing world, they are gratefully accepted. The challenge, of course, is collecting them and shipping them.
A few weeks ago, the NYTimes featured a story about a woman who has taken on the project in the New York area, very inspiring indeed.
Check into a hospital, and mostly by just lying in bed, you’ll generate, on average, 25 pounds of waste a day, according to Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, an environmental advocacy group. Some portion of that waste is safe, fully functioning and no doubt desperately needed somewhere in the world.Danielle Butin, a downsized managed care executive with a background in managed care, took a trip to Tanzania and saw for herself how meager the medical supplies were. I think it's nice she stopped by a hospital - not the usual tourist destination, unless you're at the emergency room. The result is that she has started a recovery operation for NY area hospital surplus called Afya Foundation for America. Afya is Swahili for "health". Here is a tag line from their website:
The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth.
It's great to read about people who see a problem, and figure out they are the solution. If you're interested in learning more about how surplus medicines, medical supplies, and medical equipment is saved and shipped abroad, here is an extensive list of organizations which do this important work. The great thing is that they aren't just keeping junk out of landfill, they are taking the supplies to where they will be used to heal people.