Life Cycle Assessment of Medical Product Plastic Packaging at UVA Hospital; Waste Labor Infrastructure and Visibility in UVA Hospital

Author: ORCID icon
Clements, Anne, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Forelle, MC, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Landsman, Zackary, EN-SIE, University of Virginia
Allen, Timothy, EN-Biomed Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Peterson, Lisa, EN-CEE, University of Virginia

UVA hospital alone generates over 8 million pounds of waste each year, a large portion of which comes from plastic packaging. Because of the nature of maintaining sterility and the danger of contamination, most medical products in the hospital are single use and packaged in unknown, non-recyclable plastic packaging.

For the technical portion of this thesis, my team and I completed a waste audit and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of a subset of medical product plastic packaging at UVA hospital. The environmental impact calculated in the LCA was used to educate hospital staff and encourage the hospital at large to develop sustainable systems.

The sociotechnical portion of this thesis analyzed the social and ethical aspects of this medical waste: how the visibility of waste laborers in the hospital reflects a greater power dynamic of (im)purity, though their work is essential to the function of the hospital system. I amended Susan Leigh Star’s categorization of infrastructure with Brighenti’s sociological concept of visibility to observe and evaluate the relationships that exist in the structure of the hospital, specifically in the management of waste. I studied existing work in the waste studies field and shadowed a Sterile Support Technician (SST) in the OR to develop and reflect upon the impacts of visibility of labor and intimacy of waste for hospital waste laborers. Who we are is how we waste, reflected directly in how we consider those who deal with our waste. In the creation of new hospital systems for dealing with waste, it is imperative to consider both those who waste and those who labor.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), healthcare sustainability, ethics of waste, visibility, infrastructure, waste labor

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering
Technical Advisors: Zackary Landsman, Timothy Allen, Lisa Colosi Peterson
STS Advisor: MC Forelle
Technical Team Members: Margaret Weber, Davis Young

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