Single use plastic bibs, trays, barriers and cups may be standard issue at your average dental clinic, but at Lumino the Dentists, a pilot scheme is being carried out to turn back the ever-growing tide of waste.
The team at Lumino DentalOne Remuera are on a mission to boost sustainability at their practice and across the industry. They have been running the pilot scheme with dental supplier Henry Schein for the past 12 months, and while they’ve already made great headway, Practice Lead Dr Sarah Kelly says they’re far from finished.
“We don’t want future generations having to clean up after all the single use plastic waste we’ve created,” says Sarah.
“Just like health and safety, infection control and patient experience, our practice must balance other issues such as environmental sustainability in how we move forward in our industry.”
A few years ago, the practice gave little thought to whether a dental bib was single use plastic or how much they threw away each year, but an audit in 2018 provided the catalyst for change. Now they maintain a strong focus on the five R’s (refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot) and work tirelessly to reduce their plastic waste by 50,000 items each year (including using 6000 fewer plastic cups and 17,000 less plastic-backed disinfectant wipes).
“We are aiming to create just a little less rubbish at our practice. Sustainable dentistry isn’t really a destination, it’s more of a journey, but with a little thought, it is something everyone can do.”
Now DentalOne Remuera separates compostable and soft plastics and has multiple waste streams, from commercial compost and recycling to soft plastics being made into fence posts and a recycle bin dedicated to Colgate products. Health and safety remain a top priority but they have reduced waste per patient. As an example, they have minimised the use of bibs and cups unless providing an aerosol generating procedure.
“It’s not as difficult as you would think – we all just have to think about it. The nurses are the real heroes and Co-lead Dr Craig Dotchin has helped immensely.”
Sarah has worked in private practice in Australia and the UK for 11 years before returning to New Zealand to join Lumino in 2012. During her two decades in the industry she says the popularity of single use plastic has skyrocketed.
“Back in the 1970s most practices had reasonable waste minimisation systems and created little waste, but due to the relative low cost of petrol and plastics, and our improving understanding of cross infection, there has been a massive proliferation of products to fulfil issues we didn’t know we had.”
Convenience, affordability and a desire for improved hygiene practices have fuelled the fire, but the environmental impact has been huge. Thankfully now there is a global backlash to single use plastic and individuals - and entire industries - are more focussed than ever before on reducing their environmental footprint. At DentalOne and other Lumino practices around the country there is increased importance on balancing infection control, consistency and convenience with environmental sustainability, and a group-wide sustainability policy has been introduced to standardise infection control practices and reduce environmental damage. The dental industry as a whole is moving in the same direction.
“Previously sustainable dentistry has been considered a ‘nice to have’ but it has now become a ‘needs to’.”
Improving the environmental impact of dentistry is a long-term commitment – there’s no easy fix! But with a little effort from everyone, the team at DentalOne Remuera believes great results can be achieved.
“The important thing is just to keep making small changes.”