Your practice and the planet

23 September 2021
3 min read

Kimberley Lloyd-Rees explains how small changes can mean a big step towards sustainability.

People have been talking about climate change for longer than most of us realise; the term ‘global warming’ was first used in a scientific paper in 1975. Multiple studies have presented evidence to indicate that the planet is getting warmer, and that it is extremely likely this trend can be attributed to human activity. For some time now, we have all been encouraged to be more conscious of how our behaviour impacts on the environment, and to make changes where we can.

The message had been getting much louder in recent years, and the movement gathering considerable pace. Separating our waste may now be routine, but we’re still throwing too much away. It is estimated that British households create over 26m tonnes of waste annually, with England recycling just 44 per cent (less than Wales and Northern Ireland, but slightly more than Scotland, at 43 per cent).

Since last year, you may have been thinking about your place in the global community, and what more you can do to protect the planet. Much has been, and will continue to be, written about the impact of Covid-19 on climate change – the World Meteorological Organization said that although carbon emissions did fall as a result of lockdowns, the pandemic only “marginally slowed” the rise in concentrations of CO2. Finding practical, ongoing ways to be greener – backed up by action from governments; climate change was a key topic at the G7 summit in June – has never been more crucial.

Take the message to your practice and patients
What can be done in the dental practice? You could start by calculating your carbon footprint – there are plenty of online tools to do this – then look at ways to reduce it. You might even make this a feature display in your reception area and it may prove a great way to encourage patient engagement, piquing their interest whilst improving your green credentials.

Simple changes include switching to energy-saving lightbulbs and making sure lights are switched off when not in use. You can also check and fix leaky taps and cisterns and get people to reuse their own mugs when they can, to cut down on washing-up. Incentivise cycling, walking or taking public transport to get to work, or set up a car-share scheme are all easy switches. Meanwhile, investigate going paperless; there are excellent practice management software options available, which will also boost efficiency.

Recycle where you can, but think about how to reduce waste. Infection control protocols will require some items to be disposed of immediately after use, or washed after one wear, but unnecessary waste can be significantly limited. Look at the products you use, but take it beyond whether something can be recycled or not. A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a methodology that measures the environmental impact of a product or service from its manufacture through to its consumption/use and disposal. An LCA will take into account all the resources required, as well as emissions produced at every stage, and can be used to make an informed choice.

It must be accepted that plastic waste in the dental practice cannot be eliminated entirely, but you can be mindful of best practice. The plastics’ industry established Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) in North America, and it has been implemented in Europe since 2015. Operation Clean Sweep is a programme designed to “prevent the loss of plastic granules (pellets, flakes and powders) during handling by the various entities in the plastics value chain and their release into the environment”. OCS helps companies strengthen their sustainability by committing to actions including providing employees with training in spill prevention, containment, clean-up and disposal.

Away from plastics, when a product is labelled with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, this indicates that it is eco-friendly and has been responsibly sourced. The FSC certification is a gold standard system that enables the identification and purchase of wood, paper and other products made with materials from “well-managed forests and/ or recycled sources”. Some oral hygiene suppliers are now producing tools manufactured using FSC-certified materials; for example, Tandex recently launched the Woodi interdental brush, that enables gentle and effective cleaning with a handle made from FSC-certified sustainable birch wood (the box is fully recyclable too).

Working in oral health promotion, we try to get patients to engage with our message, making small changes for long-term impact. The delivery of this message starts with education, which empowers people to make better choices. This is similar to climate change – we must first learn, then make positive changes and consistently apply them. Living more sustainably is something we can all do and patients of every age are interested in being greener and cleaner. If climate change is the next global crisis of our time, it can also be a catalyst to change the way you do things not just at home, but in the dental practice too.