The Last Word: Becoming Eco-Friendly

By Dr Heather Muir / 29 Nov 2021

With climate change and sustainability becoming a vital topic, Dr Heather Muir outlines how clinics can become more environmentally friendly

I am contributing to the Earth’s health. 78% of the earth’s surface is covered in water and as a result, a majority of our plastic ends up in the ocean with plastics consistently making up 80% of all marine debris studied,1 polluting and destroying our ecosystem. Everything we use has an environmental impact on the climate. Sustainability consulting firm Zero Waste reported that 120 billion units of packaging is produced by the global cosmetics industry annually and a majority of this is not recyclable. However, of the recyclable packaging less than a third of all plastic in the UK is recycled2 and worse still, it is shocking how much of what we believe to be recyclable is not ― just ask the oceans! In 2016, a study estimated that 12 million metric tons of plastic was dumped in the ocean every year.3 Plastic production is forecast to grow by 60% by 2030 and to treble by 2050.4 Were you aware that it takes almost 1,000 years for the average plastic pot of moisturiser to decompose?

On reflection, at home, I am very environmentally aware ensuring we recycle where possible, purchase as minimal single use plastic and years ago, I made the decision to drive an electric car. I encourage my daughter to be aware of the planet and the effect of our actions on it, yet at work I unfortunately do very little at present. We have no environmental or recycling protocols and the only obvious effort we make is to recycle our cardboard boxes.

The above statistics show it’s important that my clinics, as well as the rest of the aesthetics industry, make a conscious effort to change and aid environmental issues.

How clinics impact climate change

Climate change and the environment is increasingly becoming a pivotal topic in the cosmetics industry, with companies transferring towards greener packaging and incorporating environmentally friendly ingredients in their products. The ban on microbeads in beauty and personal care items was a positive step and this is driven by both the industry and green consumerism.5 At present, I can see less of this movement in the medical aesthetics specialty. So, what is the impact of the aesthetics industry on the planet? In medicine we cannot change the number of single use products that we wield but we could recycle the paper, plastic and cardboard packaging. What can we do as a clinic? This is even more important now with the increase in demand on our clinics with the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the need for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning products.

Simple steps to becoming environmentally friendly

I believe the first step in becoming more environmentally friendly in your clinic is to analyse the areas where we can make impactful changes. Mobile apps such as Klima can be used to assist with this process, as it can help us to track our carbon footprint and learn how to reduce our impact.

The easiest step to begin with is recycling. Clinics will have many cardboard boxes containing deliveries, and paper packaging for our consumables. In my clinic we have a clinical waste and general waste bin in the clinical rooms, but I plan to add an additional recycling bin in order to encourage the recycling of day-to-day packaging. However, it is not as simple as placing packaging into a recycle bin as this may not result in the items being recycled. Programmes, such as TerraCycle or Return to Origins, offer free recycling for all beauty product packaging. Apps such as Horizon can also be used to scan product barcodes and learn how to recycle them in your area. This requires little effort with no increased costs and in my opinion, the resulting improvements are worth the extra dedication. I plan to ensure that the bags we use for cosmeceutical purchases will be recyclable, reusable and not contain plastic, so that these are easily recyclable for our patients after use and can cut down the amount of waste that our clinic contributes to. In addition, I’m implementing a new protocol in my clinic that all staff will have reusable non-plastic water bottles, and there should ideally be no single use plastic bottles in clinic at all. For sparkling water, I would advise that clinics purchase a machine which will produce carbonated water rather than buying bottles. We have world class running water, so why buy bottles at all!

Cleaning supplies, where possible, should be changed to environmentally friendlier chemicals that have more sustainable packaging such as fatty acids C8-18, denatured alcohol and lactic acid. Many manufacturers also now have refillable containers reducing plastic waste and there are more eco-friendly chemical products available for the general clinic cleaning.

Clinics can also reduce the temperature of the washing machine and dishwasher to reduce the amount of energy we use. As a bonus this reduces costs too. Educating staff and encouraging them to save water by working as a team and communicating about when we need to use and save energy is also integral.

Clinics should also start analysing electricity and gas suppliers to investigate if there are more environmentally friendly suppliers available, such as OVO energy, and at what cost. Governments have targets as to the production of renewable energy, so we can push ourselves towards the consumption of natural power.

Get started!

I believe we all have a responsibility to do our part to protect the environment. If we start to become more aware of our environmental impact, we can create a positive movement towards a greener future for both the industry and the planet. We can be leaders in a world where so many people look to us for solutions. We can set a wonderful example to our patients and our colleagues to make as much effort to preserve our planet as we do in preserving ourselves and our patients.

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