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Celebrate Earth Day with these sustainable dentist office tips

Dentistry is an energy- and resource-intensive field. In the United States, dental practices discard approximately 680 million chair barriers, light handle covers and patient bibs, as well as 1.7 million sterilization pouches each year.

But that doesn’t mean running a more sustainable dentist office is impossible! Here are some ways you can be more sustainable, so you can start your journey towards a more eco-friendly practice.

What is the reduce, reuse, recycle method?

Recycling is usually the first thing people think of when they think about sustainability, but it’s just one way you can reduce your waste. The phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle” highlights other steps you can employ as well to tackle the amount of waste your practice generates.

The first step is to identify areas you can reduce the number of items you use. Next, identify areas where you can reuse an item repeatedly to get the most uses out of it. Finally, when you’ve finished using an item, recycle it appropriately. 

This can be tricky, given safety concerns for your patients and yourself and your staff, but one thing you can do is opt for items that can be sanitized and reused over single-use items. One example would be using a laminated paper at your front desk for reminders or promotions, rather than handing out flyers to every patient.

In the front office and reception area

Office administration can be a paper heavy job and having physical copies of things like patient information may be essential when your power or internet goes out. But there are other areas where you can reduce your paper usage:

  • Go digital. Take your administrative tasks online with Provider Tools. This free an application from Delta Dental that lets your office do tons of administrative tasks online. You can sign up for direct deposit payments and explanations of benefits, verify patient eligibility, opt in to paperless communications and more!
  • Use an online patient portal. Patient portals that let patients submit all of their necessary information online reduce the amount of information you need to print. If your office requires having printed information, you can print only what’s necessary, ultimately reducing paper and ink.
  • Use energy efficient products. Energy-efficient products can include water-saving toilets, solar panels, LED light bulbs, and reflective glass windows. Green products include glass irrigation syringes, biodegradable cups and office furniture made with recycled or reclaimed materials. Instead of discarding them, look into recycling your office supplies and computer parts. Replace single-use products like batteries and heater/air conditioner filters with reusable ones.
  • Communicate with your patients digitally. Limit the number of things you send your patients through the mail and use emails, texts and phone calls to reach them instead. This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate sending physical mail entirely — simply provide more options for your patients to choose from. Letting patients choose the best way to get in touch with them could also lead to more effective communication efforts for your practice.
  • Use recycled and recyclable materials. Sometimes you just need to print. When that happens, consider using recycled paper. Recycling paper results in less water usage and air pollution than creating new paper from scratch, and paper can be recycled multiple times. When you do print, avoid adding coatings or lamination, as they typically can’t be recycled.

In the operatory

Dentistry waste is often hazardous, difficult to manage and expensive. In recent years, the industry for dental tools has been paying attention to concerns about the environment, with new high-tech innovations often allowing for waste reduction.

If you can’t afford to invest in an expensive new tool that could reduce waste, it’s still possible to reduce waste in other ways.

  • Order in bulk. No matter what you’ll need to use some items only once, likely due to sanitary concerns. When ordering your single-use items, consider ordering in bulk. It may seem counterintuitive, but bulk orders minimize transportation pollution and reduce the amount of packaging overall. For example, if you order one box of latex gloves every month, you’ll receive 12 shipping boxes with cushioning, and a delivery driver must come to your business 12 times. With one bulk order, you’ll most likely get a year’s supply in just a few boxes and a single delivery.
  • Use digital x-rays. Converting to digital dental radiographs from traditional film can reduce waste and repetitive expenses. Even better, digital radiographs are easy to share, and they eliminate the use of silver and chemicals to develop film. The chemicals needed to develop film and proper disposal methods can be expensive as well as dangerous to the environment. If you need to use film radiographs, the American Dental Association recommends recycling the lead foil along with the fixer and developer solutions.

When going green, even small changes can help — and add up over time.