Curbing Waste in the Supply Chain


Tue Mar 29 13:00:00 CDT 2016
Seth Masek
Senior Director, Medtronic Sustainable Technologies Group

Wringing waste out of the supply chain not only keeps the healthcare industry “green,” it also enables gapless savings and increases efficiency.


Since Medtronic designs, manufactures and reprocesses medical devices, we have unique insight into the issues that occur throughout the product lifecycle of medical devices.


The first insight is that original equipment manufacturers that are also reprocessors can benefit hospitals for two reasons: 1) they can easily remanufacture and restock based on learnings from downstream manufacturing, which helps get ahead of product recalls and avoids sending medical devices to the landfill, and 2) they can ensure that every product that returns for refurbishing is returned to its original device specifications. Both help curb waste in the supply chain, allow for uninterrupted product supply and ensure quality and reliability.


The second insight is as the healthcare industry aims toward zero waste, at some point, we recognize, a device will need to be taken out of service and recycled. The future holds vast promise for healthcare organizations that take initiative to lead in the recycling space and slow the waste stream down.


This is taking the field one step further, and is far from what some call “greenwashing.” That derogatory term implies that recycling just to feel good about recycling is the end in and of itself. When more and more players in the healthcare industry believe that sustainability initiatives make a difference is when we'll reach the critical mass necessary to make these functions business as usual. And it's beginning to happen in ways large and small.


One place is at the end of a device's useful life. We've partnered with a national recycler that works with more than 2,000 recycling companies across the country. Reclaiming the component parts of medical devices involves dissimilar materials, different grades of plastics, and volume conundra. In waste-to-energy facilities, plastics can still produce dioxins; we want to avoid replacing one environmental hazard with another. We continue to innovate to solve these issues, and are building out our capacity to streamline this process.


Working with such a large network of recyclers opens doors to new and innovative solutions for one day eliminating healthcare's contribution to the waste stream. As we scale our programs, we expect that more innovation will take root and flourish. In addition, our collaboration with these providers who are nationally known for their robust sustainability programs, allow for the sharing of ideas coming from caregivers on how to reclaim everything they touch, from sheets and drapes to more expensive items.


Medtronic is uniquely positioned to solve the waste problem through what we call “Triple R” – remanufacture, reprocess and recycle. With a deep understanding of device design, ability to control lots, service and analytics, Medtronic can optimize a healthcare facility's green initiatives while simultaneously driving risk out of the process.


Seth Masek is Senior Director of the Medtronic Sustainable Technologies Group.