Towards a More Circular, Sustainable and Economic Healthcare System in Europe

In a webinar, representatives of the EU Commission, the European Parliament and the European Committee of the Regions emphasise the urgent need to extend the circular economy to the health sector.
19. March 2021
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The healthcare sector must be integrated into the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.

With hospitals known to contribute more than double the amount of greenhouse gas emissions than the entire aviation industry, healthcare stakeholders called for a rapid integration of the healthcare sector into the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.

Medical remanufacturing plays a key role in this, but will only be available to EU member states under the provisions of Article 17 of the new Medical Devices Regulation from 26 May 2021 if EU member state health ministries “opt in” to the relevant provisions of the Regulation.

The “Towards a More Circular Sustainable and Economic Healthcare System in Europe” webinar was attended by nearly 100 hospital administrators, EU regulatory officials, and thought leaders from environmental organizations and industry.

Watch the webinar right here:

Presenters included:

Dorota Napierska, representative of the environmental advocacy group, Healthcare Without Harm Europe remarked that over 70% of hospital greenhouse gas emissions come from the supply chain and that remanufacturing medical devices is part of the solution to substantially reduce the health sector’s impact on climate change.

Paola Migliorini, Deputy Head of Unit, DG ENV, the European Commission, discussed the EU Circular Economy Action Plan and the Sustainable Products Initiative. She confirmed the importance of integrating the healthcare sector into these programs, given its economic significance and environmental footprint.

Sirpa Pietikäinen, Member of the EU Parliament, EPP Group, implored the health sector to act swiftly.  All products and packaging marketed in the EU should be durable, upgradeable, reusable, repairable, and recyclable at the highest level.

Anna Schulte, the lead researcher of a detailed life cycle analysis study published recently in the Journal Sustainability, provided scientific evidence of the substantial environmental benefits of medical remanufacturing. The study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental Safety, and Energy Technology UMSICHT, shows that remanufactured “single-use” devices reduce the CO2 footprint by 50% and resource usage by almost 30%. She stressed that remanufacturing should be prioritized over recycling, as this preserves the product, resulting in higher circular value creation.

Erik Hansson the Deputy Head of Unit of Medical Devices and Health Technology Assessment, DG SANTE (Health and Food Safety) of the European Commission, which is responsible for implementing the new MDR, summarized the steps Member States need to follow if they wish to “opt in” to the provisions of Article 17, which enable the remanufacturing of “single-use” medical devices.

Tjisse Stelpstra a regional minister for the Province Drenthe in the Netherlands and a Member of the European Committee of the Regions presented on the role of local and regional authorities in promoting a cleaner and more sustainable Europe and highlighted the role of national governments and especially local and regional authorities in driving changes toward a more circular healthcare system given that under the EU principles of subsidiarity healthcare is an activity primarily regulated by member states. The provisions of the MDR enabling medical remanufacturing require member countries to “opt in”.

Alan Wain, Chief Operating Officer for NHS Supply Chain in England, outlined the NHS action plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. The NHS is committed to waste reduction, reuse, and remanufacturing of certain “single-use” devices according to Mr. Wain. It was at the initiative of the NHS that the Fraunhofer study of the environmental impact of remanufacturing was commissioned.

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