In Focus: Environmental Sustainability in the Dental Industry

Today, environmental sustainability has become a hot button political issue as well as a key concern across multiple industries, including the practice of dentistry. To the extent that your environmental practices expose you to potential liabilities, it is best to consult an attorney who provides legal services to dental professionals. In the meantime, this article is a brief discussion of environmental sustainability and waste management in the dental industry.

What does sustainability mean in dentistry?

If sustainability is about being responsible for natural resources, in dentistry it’s simply a matter of striking a balance between human health and environmental health through proper waste management. Dental practices must be able to handle all types of waste—latex gloves, clinical waste, food waste, recyclables, biohazards—in an eco-friendly manner. 

Ultimately, the goal is to mitigate the amount of carbon that is produced from all forms of waste. While managing waste may seem daunting, it is a professional and legal responsibility since there are laws governing the disposal of medical waste, including dental waste. The difficulty in reducing waste in the healthcare sector at large is that much of the disposable items are used to protect patients. 

Nonetheless, there are ways that dental practices can improve their waste management, not the least of which are reducing the amount of waste produced and ensuring waste has been properly separated. One way to reduce the amount of waste produced is to avoid overbuying items that expire and will eventually be discarded. In addition, using recyclable, non-medical products that break down naturally can help to reduce the amount of dental waste produced. 

Reducing the amount of paper your practice uses is also crucial; in fact, your practice should go paperless. It is also critically important to properly separate waste: biohazards must be properly contained and like recyclables should be collected together. Properly sorting waste can actually help to reduce the amount of waste produced. 

In addition to establishing practices to reduce waste in your dental office, it is also helpful to support manufacturers, suppliers, and vendors that are eco-friendly. Finally, purchasing durable equipment and tools that can be sterilized for repeated, long-term use will also reduce environmental risks.

The Takeaway

Dentists can and should help reduce their carbon footprint and build more sustainable dental practices. Given the greater public awareness about environmental sustainability, reducing waste is not only the responsible thing to do, it’s also good for business since having any eco-friendly practice can also help to attract new patients.