Background: Growing awareness of the negative impacts from the practice of health care on the environment and public health calls for the routine inclusion of life cycle criteria into the decision-making process of device selection. Here we present a life cycle assessment of 2 laryngeal mask airways (LMAs), a one-time-use disposable Unique™ LMA and a 40-time-use reusable Classic™ LMA.
Methods: In life cycle assessment, the basis of comparison is called the "functional unit." For this report, the functional unit of the disposable and reusable LMAs was taken to be maintenance of airway patency by 40 disposable LMAs or 40 uses of 1 reusable LMA. This was a cradle-to-grave study that included inputs and outputs for the manufacture, transport, use, and waste phases of the LMAs. The environmental impacts of the 2 LMAs were estimated using SimaPro life cycle assessment software and the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability impact assessment method. Sensitivity and simple life cycle cost analyses were conducted to aid in interpretation of the results.
Results: The reusable LMA was found to have a more favorable environmental profile than the disposable LMA as used at Yale New Haven Hospital. The most important sources of impacts for the disposable LMA were the production of polymers, packaging, and waste management, whereas for the reusable LMA, washing and sterilization dominated for most impact categories.
Discussion: The differences in environmental impacts between these devices strongly favor reusable devices. These benefits must be weighed against concerns regarding transmission of infection. Health care facilities can decrease their environmental impacts by using reusable LMAs, to a lesser extent by selecting disposable LMA models that are not made of certain plastics, and by ordering in bulk from local distributors. Certain practices would further reduce the environmental impacts of reusable LMAs, such as increasing the number of devices autoclaved in a single cycle to 10 (-25% GHG emissions) and improving the energy efficiency of the autoclaving machines by 10% (-8% GHG emissions). For both environmental and cost considerations, management and operating procedures should be put in place to ensure that reusable LMAs are not discarded prematurely.