Waste Not, Want Not

Promoting environmental sustainability by reducing waste

 

Our planet bears proof of an indisputable truth: waste is piling up in landfills and oceans around the world. Unfortunately, medical waste is part of the problem. From single-use syringes to decommissioned insulin pumps, there is an environmental cost to the safe delivery of healthcare. As a leader in the medical device industry, we’re tackling product waste head-on and striving for a more sustainable future.

 

Reimagining Our Work to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Hospitals in the United States produce more than 5 million tons of medical waste each year.1 Items used in operating rooms must be sterile, which creates the need for single-use items, most of which are either incinerated or sent to a landfill for disposal. Medtronic works with hospitals around the world to reduce waste. Since 2019, we’ve collected almost 73 metric tons of used surgical tools that have been converted into electricity.

While Medtronic helps healthcare systems reduce medical waste, we also work to reduce waste across our operational spectrum – from research and development to manufacturing and distribution. We are constantly looking for new ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Sometimes this means reimagining the way we do our work. At one of our facilities in Galway, Ireland, for example, we changed the way we used chemicals in the manufacturing process to help cut total waste generation by 34%.

  

A Product's Second Life

Many of our devices are implanted in the body, so recycling isn’t an easy option. But we do look for opportunities to refurbish and reprocess select products to give them a second life when appropriate. Through Medtronic “takeback” initiatives, we collected more than six million products, including pulse oximetry devices and heart monitors in fiscal year 2020. Also, more than 100,000 devices are processed at our Returned Products Analysis Lab each year, and many are recycled by approved precious metal recycling companies.

Less Packaging, Less Waste

Plastics and other packaging materials are important to the safe delivery of medical devices. But plastic pollution is a growing global concern. As a member of the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council, Medtronic is working on economically viable solutions.2 In fiscal year 2020, we redesigned the secondary packaging for three products, removing an excess layer of barrier plastic and decreasing the size of product cartons. Together, these changes yielded a 45%-85% decrease in package size without compromising product safety.



“The best kind of waste is the waste that is never created.”

–Nathan Pommier, Senior Environmental Health and Safety Manager, Medtronic

Nathan Pommier

  

Two women smiling

  

A More Environmentally Sustainable Supply Chain

Reducing packaging waste requires working with vendors in our supply chain. PKG Packaging is a small, minority-owned business based in Oxnard, California that specializes in providing innovative and sustainable packaging for businesses. Since 1998, they have provided Medtronic with biodegradable and compostable packaging solutions for insulin pumps used by diabetes patients.

  

Employees Go Green — Small Changes, Big Difference

Being a good environmental steward means creating a culture where employees feel empowered to drive sustainability in the workplace. Our employees are leading efforts to reduce, reuse, and recycle items used in our offices around the world. Under one global, employee-led initiative, we made our meetings “greener” by eliminating plastic bottles, reducing ground transportation, and eliminating paper by using a mobile meeting app. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we have pivoted to virtual meetings, which benefits the environment and reduces our costs. For example, during the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, we saved 29,568 pounds of paper, 960 pounds of plastic bottles of water bottles, and 384,000 pounds of jet fuel by switching from in-person events to virtual ones.

By promoting reusable utensils, cups, and dishes, employees in our Fort Worth, Texas, office eliminated more than 600,000 Styrofoam cups at a cost savings of $12,000 a year in 2019. They also started a weekly clean-up of the facility and surrounding property, a gardening club, and two recycling programs. "If everyone here stopped using Styrofoam, that's 3,000 cups a week saved from the landfill,” said Sandra Rosas, a project manager for Medtronic who led the initiative. “It only takes a small change to make a big difference."

 

“We are seeing more employees spark ideas and rally their colleagues to build sustainable projects with remarkable results.”

–Valora Putnam, Senior Director, Environmental, Health and Safety

 

Medtronic is committed to reducing waste and working with healthcare systems and supply chains to do the same. From our office workers to the engineers working in labs, each of us can be part of the solution. The path ahead is challenging, but together we can make great progress.

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