The healthcare industry is paramount for saving human lives, but modern medicine is not exactly friendly to the environment. With every medication we take, each visit we make to the doctor and every intervention – big or small – we hurt the planet little by little.
We have been told one way to reduce pollution is by cutting down on plastic. Still, while you can do that at a coffee shop by using a reusable cup or refusing a plastic straw, you don’t exactly have the same power of choice while you are unconscious in the hospital, for example.
Because most of the items used in hospitals need to be sterile and disposed of after, plastic has become a very convenient material for them. Items such as syringes, swabs, bandages or needles come packed in plastic containers, which are sterile but generate a tremendous amount of waste. Research shows a hysterectomy intervention, for example, generates as much as 20 pounds of waste
, a large part of which is plastic.
Medical And Pharmaceutical Waste Is Becoming A Concern
Besides surgery, a significant portion of waste comes from medication that we purchase from pharmacies. Most of the packaging on these products can’t be recycled
, which means it will ultimately end up in landfills, not to mention the amount of pharmaceutical waste, which consists in unused or expired medication, that needs to be thrown away.
The majority of healthcare waste comes from hospitals and healthcare facilities, research centers, laboratories, collection services and autopsy centers, and divides into 8 categories:
Infectious waste: waste that is contaminated with bodily fluids or blood, waste from laboratories and waste that comes from patients with infections, such as bandages, swabs and other disposables;
Pathological waste: human tissue or fluids;
Sharps waste: needles, syringes, scalpels, blades and other sharp disposables;
Pharmaceutical waste: unused or expired medicine, vaccines or other medical products;
Cytotoxic waste: hazardous waste that contains substances with genotoxic properties, such as those used in cancer treatments;
Radioactive waste: radiotherapeutic materials and any other waste contaminated by radionuclides;
Non-hazardous waste: waste that does not represent a physical, chemical, biological or radioactive hazard.
Even when properly disposed of, healthcare waste can still lead to a number of issues, including:
Chemical burns associated to waste treatment activities
Thermal injuries from waste incinerators
Air pollution caused by waste incineration
Toxic exposure to hazardous products and substances
Are Painkillers A Threat To Both The Environment And Our Health?
Some of the most widely-purchased medication are painkillers, which can be purchased over-the-counter and typically don’t miss from anyone’s house, but the blister packs are made out of unrecyclable materials.
We can’t deny packaging does play a big role in ensuring products remain safe and prolonging their expiration date, but the fact that painkillers are so accessible makes us forget how harmful they can be for both the environment and our health.
Studies show painkillers, even when used occasionally, can lead to a number of side effects that vary from severe to mild. Some of those are:
Issues with the digestive system, such as nausea, which have been linked to aspirin and can result in severe complications such as stomach bleeding
Liver injury and liver failure caused by ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen
Kidney damage when combining alcohol with medication such as acetaminophen
The main issue with painkillers is that we can’t control which part of our body they affect, and there is no way to redirect them to one area in particular. For example, if you have a toothache and menstrual pain, a painkiller will affect both, which in theory is good, but may not actually be the case. The way anti-inflammatory drugs work is by blocking the enzyme in your body that produces a molecule related to painful inflammation, which is why there is no way to tell what part of your body will be affected.
Luckily, there is one way to alleviate pain without putting both our bodies and the planet at risk – natural healing methods.
How Natural Healing Methods Can Help Reduce Waste
Modern medicine may be readily available, affordable and efficient, but are we truly aware of the hidden costs? Just because we call it modern treatment, it does not make it necessarily better than natural remedies and treatments, which oftentimes work by treating the real cause of the pain, instead of the symptoms.
Alternative medicine and natural healing methods can be extremely effective for a number of ailments, including pain and inflammation and were widely used before fast-acting painkillers were created by pharmaceutical companies. Take back and joint pain, for example, which can be treated by using natural herbs, such as devil’s claw root, comfrey, turmeric or chili peppers. Headaches can also be chased away with caffeine, curcumin and omega-3 fatty acids.
By using natural remedies, we can reduce the amount of healthcare waste that results from medication packages and, hopefully, discourage mass production and consumption
of over-the-counter medicine. To this date, there is no possibility for pharmacies to go zero-waste, which means it is up to us, the customers, to find alternative methods for treatment and only recur to medication when absolutely necessary.
Holistic Healing Methods To Reduce Pain
There are a number of ways to treat pain, besides the use of painkillers, such as:
Using herbs and spices: willow bark, turmeric, and cloves are natural pain alleviators that can easily be found at the farmers market.
Acupuncture: this Chinese medical practice helps release serotonin, which is a chemical that helps ease pain.
Chiropractic care: experts at Northeast Chiropractic Center explain chiropractic care can solve a number of issues related to joint pain and addresses the issue at its core.
The heat and ice method: alternatively applying heat and ice directly onto the source of the pain will help reduce inflammation and stiffness.
Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/CEM52sAHR80
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