Study Estimates Waste From a Mohs Surgery Practice Over One Year

Randy Dotinga

June 01, 2021

How much of an impact does Mohs surgery have on the environment? A small Mohs clinic in Chicago decided to gain some insight by measuring waste left behind after surgical procedures. Their findings: Just two physicians — a surgeon and a surgical fellow — manage to produce nearly a ton of noncontaminated surgical waste annually even though they only see patients twice a week.

"While our emissions as Mohs surgeons are relatively small compared to other types of surgeries, we still emit a notable amount of greenhouse gases compared to nonmedical fields. Mohs surgeons tend to produce the most noncontaminated waste versus other categories, and that's the category that could be most recyclable," said Mohs surgeon Simon S. Yoo, MD, of Northwestern University, Chicago, who presented the results at the annual meeting of the American College of Mohs Surgery.

Yoo, who spoke in an interview, said the coronavirus pandemic spurred the waste analysis. "In the past year, there seemed to be many questions as to the environmental causes and impacts of the pandemic," he said. "We decided to investigate the environmental impact of Mohs surgery."

He and surgical fellow Alvin Li, MD, analyzed all waste produced by their clinic over a 3-week period when 106 procedures were performed. They discovered that the surgeries produced 25.8 kg of biohazardous waste (29%), 2.2 kg of packaging waste (3%), 56.4 kg of noncontaminated waste (63%), and 7.5 kg of sharps waste (8%).

"The majority of the waste we produced was noncontaminated and possibly recyclable," Yoo said. "However, most of this waste and its packaging did not have clear recycling instructions and presented a significant barrier to recycling by our staff."

The study authors extrapolated the waste amount to annual totals of 413.5 kg of biohazardous waste, 34.9 kg of packaging waste, 902.3 kg of noncontaminated waste, and 119.9 kg of sharps waste. That adds up to 1,471 kg. The total of noncontaminated waste is the equivalent of nearly 2,000 pounds — a ton.

Yoo and Li estimate that the waste produced annual emissions equal to 6.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. They estimate that the amount of emissions produced by Mohs surgeons nationally each year is 7,592 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, equal to emissions produced by 19 million miles of passenger automobile travel.

Still, Yoo said, Mohs surgeries appear to produce fewer emissions than some other operations. "We estimate that an individual Mohs procedure generates around 10 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent whereas a single hysterectomy generates about 380 kg; much of this is due to the use of volatile anesthetics."

Environmental protection advocate Mary Maloney, MD, professor of medicine and director of dermatologic surgery at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, urged colleagues to launch a similar waste-weighing project in their own clinics. "I challenge dermatologists to take a bag of your daily plastic waste and weigh it," she said. "We'll all be astounded by how much we throw away each day. Until you do that experiment yourself, you'll have a hard time getting your arms around how much plastic we're using."

Maloney, a member of the American Academy of Dermatology Expert Resource Group for Climate Change and Environmental Issues, urged colleagues to consider strategies to reduce plastic use specifically. "Look at everything you use and see if there's a nonplastic equivalent," she said. Even reducing the use of plastic writing pens can make a difference, she said, as can cutting back on syringes and revising procedures so gloves don't have to be changed as often.

No study funding was reported. Yoo and Maloney report no disclosures.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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