Comparative carbon footprint analysis of disposable vaginal speculum

Disposable medical equipment is being used more and more frequently in healthcare facilities across the United States to cut down on wait times, expenses, and the spread of illnesses. However, the use of disposable instruments is linked to an increase in solid waste production. It may have unfavourable consequences for the environment, such as an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

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We used methods from life cycle assessment to determine the carbon footprints of three different vaginal specula. These included a model made of acrylic that was only intended for single use and two models made of stainless steel for several services.

Study design:

It was decided that the completion of 20 gynecologic examinations using either type of speculum would serve as the functional unit of the study. SimaPro life cycle assessment software was used to analyze the greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) produced throughout a product’s life cycle. These stages include material production and manufacturing, transportation, use and reprocessing, and end-of-life activities. The results of this analysis were then converted into carbon dioxide equivalents.


In multiple model scenarios (different reprocessing techniques, autoclave loading/efficiency, and several uses), it was discovered that the reusable stainless steel grade 304 speculum had a smaller carbon footprint than the reusable stainless steel grade 316 or the disposable acrylic speculum. This was the case regardless of the number of times it was used. The material production and manufacturing phase contributed the most substantially to the acrylic speculum’s whole life cycle carbon footprint. On the other hand, the usage and reprocessing phase contributed the most heavily to the carbon footprints of both types of stainless steel specula.

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Compared with reusable alternatives, disposable vaginal specula is associated with higher levels of greenhouse gas equivalents, even though there is no discernible difference in the clinical utility of the two options. Because healthcare systems take a wide variety of factors into account when making final purchase decisions, these findings can be used to inform decision-making by healthcare systems; similarly, analytical methods can and should be applied to other components of waste streams generated by healthcare systems. more read

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