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The amount of waste generated during a typical uncomplicated cataract surgery in the US is staggering. We sought to evaluate the environmental impact of our standard cataract surgery procedure by measuring the weight of the waste generated per case, and we developed a recycling and supply chain management plan to reduce our carbon footprint.
Observational case series. Recycling is not currently available in our operating rooms and all surgical waste is taken off-site for disposal. All waste generated from 20 standard, uncomplicated cataract surgeries at our institution was collected and weighed. Sharps and anesthesia medications/supplies were excluded. The carbon footprint of this waste was calculated. The issue of environmental sustainability was raised with operating room management, facilities management, and supply chain management at our institution, and a plan was developed for reducing the landfill-bound waste and carbon footprint of cataract surgery at our institution.
At a tertiary care center in the United States, one routine cataract surgery generated 3.35 kg of disposable waste materials. This quantity is approximately 13 times higher than the amount of waste produced by one cataract operation at the Aravind Eye Care System in India. The carbon footprint per case is estimated at 10.5 kg of carbon dioxide-equivalents (CO2eq), which is comparable to the greenhouse gas emissions from 26 miles driven by an average passenger vehicle. Extrapolating the data to the 2,210 routine cataract operations performed each year at this center, we can estimate an annual production of 7,403 kg of disposable waste with a carbon footprint of 23,205 kg CO2eq.
There is a lack of data examining the carbon footprint of cataract surgery in the US. This study attempts to quantify these factors to identify areas for improvement. Results support earlier findings that the Aravind model offers a sustainable approach to cataract removal compared to other centers.