TECHNOLOGY LEADERS: Materials/Coatings/Adhesives

Environmental sustainability is a growing concern among consumers and businesses. Like other industries, the healthcare sector is engaged in major sustainability initiatives. Medical device engineers and managers will be responsible for developing new products to meet greener expectations and sustainability objectives. Developing ecofriendly medical devices will require supply chain collaboration, materials science expertise, and an appetite for experimentation and discovery.

Fig. 1 – Shown is a new barrier film that is free of PVC and other harmful substances.

As device developers embark on these projects, materials selection will be central to meeting many sustainability goals. By partnering with progressive suppliers, design engineers can explore how to integrate more ecofriendly chemistries and materials into their latest innovations.

Sustainable Medical Devices

Device developers and their suppliers can collaborate to introduce products made with sustainable manufacturing methods, materials, components, and chemicals. Device engineers can partner with suppliers who have deep materials science knowledge and robust research and development capabilities. In development of greener devices, it’s also important for there to be strong relationships between materials providers and their raw materials vendors.

Oftentimes, there must be extensive physical testing when ecofriendly substitute materials are used in place of traditional inputs. Through extensive exploration and testing, expert materials scientists can determine if the alternative approach delivers the necessary performance characteristics and meets biocompatibility requirements. Biocompatibility and eco-compatibility often go hand in hand, as what is harmful to the body also tends to be bad for the earth. Still, any new formulations must be rigorously evaluated.

Fig. 2 – The new barrier film can be used in ostomy applications. It has a unique composition that eliminates the use of PVC, PVdC, and plasticizers.

For example, when an advanced materials provider set out to develop an ecofriendly alternative to a polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based medical foam, it worked with multiple raw materials vendors to devise a solution. With these suppliers, the company explored and tested alternative materials to determine which would offer the same tensile strength and softness in the finished product, among other variables. It also had to find an earth-friendly bill of materials that was cost competitive. The company’s efforts were successful and, in November 2015, it unveiled its new single- coated PVC-free foam offering all of the same benefits as a traditional PVC foam, including conformability, elasticity, cushioning, flexibility, and breathability. (See Figure 1)

Such collaborative R&D also went into the creation of a barrier film for ostomy applications made of a unique composition that eliminates the use of PVC, polyvinylidene chloride (PVdC) and plasticizers. Also known as phthalates, plasticizers are used to soften PVC and make it more flexible. They have been cited for both their harmful impact on the environment and for their potentially negative effects on human health. (See Figure 2)

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

Central to the initiative of developing ecofriendly products is the idea of purchasing products that are environmentally friendly. Care for the environment often falls within the realm of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR can include environmental stewardship as well as safety, community service, charitable giving, and other focus areas. To demonstrate their commitment to being socially responsible businesses, many large healthcare institutions are collaborating on sustainability initiatives.

Fig. 3 – Photo ashows worker disposing of plastic waste.

For instance, there is Health Care Without Harm®, an international coalition that counts hospitals, healthcare systems, medical professionals, and community groups among its members. On its website, the organization describes a mission to “implement ecologically sound and healthy alternatives to healthcare practices that pollute the environment and contribute to disease.” The group believes the healthcare industry can wield its buying power to shift the economy toward sustainable, safer practices and products.

Another collaboration, the Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals, is the work of more than 30 hospitals and healthcare systems and almost 20 industry associations and professional societies, including the American Hospital Association. Its dynamic roadmap, hosted at , offers free tools and resources to help healthcare businesses integrate sustainable practices.

Through their initiatives, these groups are looking at sustainability from a variety of angles. Both groups address the roll of healthcare purchasing in environmental sustainability. They encourage healthcare purchasers to carefully consider the materials and manufacturing processes behind medical devices and supplies they procure. The Sustainability Roadmap for Hos - pitals suggests a shift toward environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP), which it describes as follows:

“EPP specifically asks how much energy, water, and materials are involved to make a product. In turn, it also looks at the pollution, waste, and emissions generated in the production process. All costs associated with a product's life are factored into purchasing decisions, including material extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and distribution to the purchaser; the product’s use and durability, and its end-of-life considerations.”

Sustainability goals are creating waves of change across the healthcare sector. For example, one of the United States’ largest medical device manufacturers has stated that it is striving for reduction in materials usage and that all new products and packaging are being evaluated for sustainability improvement.

More Supply Chain Scrutiny

As EPP programs proliferate, medical devices are likely to undergo greater scrutiny for their environmental impact. This evaluation may require greater supply chain transparency. When upstream suppliers embrace environmental sustainability, there are clear pay-it-forward benefits for their medical device customers.

Fig. 4 – Sustainability is in our hands.

For example, device developers may need to certify that components are biobased or obtained through sustainable sourcing practices. Others may be asked to document how their manufacturing plants—and possibly their suppliers’ operations—systematically recycle scrap and reduce landfill waste. (See Figure 3) Some medical materials suppliers already are well positioned to provide evidence of sustainable practices.

The Way Forward

Now is the time to forge sustainable supply chain relationships. Healthcare EPP programs are taking shape. More hospitals are likely to implement procurement policies with mandatory sustainability requirements for medical devices. Device developers who are early adopters of environmentally sustainable materials and practices will stand apart from the pack. A solid first step in the right direction is to work with progressive materials suppliers who are keenly aware of the issues and proactively making progress toward greener solutions. (See Figure 4)

This article was written by Neal Carty, PhD, Director of Research & Development and Medical Affairs and Deepak Prakash, Global Director of Marketing, Vancive Medical Technologies, an Avery Dennison business, Chicago, IL. For more information, Click Here " target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">