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Life cycle assessment of alternative bedpans – a case of comparing disposable and reusable devices

Sørensen, Birgitte Lilholt, Wenzel, Henrik
Journal of cleaner production 2014 v.83 pp. 70-79
energy, energy recovery, environmental factors, environmental impact, equipment, excreta, guidelines, hospitals, life cycle assessment, plastics, washing, waste incineration, wastewater treatment
Comparing environmental impacts of reusable versus disposable equipment most often confirms the intrinsic assumptions of the “Waste Hierarchy” that product reuse is environmentally preferable to disposal. The present study on hospital bedpans contributes to this line of LCA comparisons. It analyzes the influence of the decisive factors in a comparison of four alternative bedpans using LCA. In contradiction to the general guidelines of the “Waste Hierarchy”, it finds that disposable bedpans are environmentally preferable to the reusable ones. This study determines three decisive factors in the environmental comparison, which may change the priority. The first factor is the use of energy for preparation for reuse. In this study washing of the reusable bedpans is a dominating contributor to environmental impacts from the reusable bedpans system. The study confirms that an energy use for recovery in the range of 0.1–0.15 MJ/kg plastic is a probable tipping point. The second factor is the benefit from an environmentally better fate of the organic excreta when using disposable bedpans. The disposable bedpans are taken to energy recovery in waste incineration instead of wastewater treatment. Overall, the disposable bedpans, therefore, perform better environmentally despite the fact that they require new production of bedpans at every use. Finally, the third factor is the influence of a change of functionality on the adjoining systems related to the product. In this study a change of workflow can imply significant savings on other materials flows in the system.