Addressing sustainability in dentistry – blog post by Gabriela Pueyo, Bupa Dental

Reducing the organisation’s impact on the environment and creating more sustainable practices is a big area of focus, as Gabriela Pueyo explains.

 

Twice a year, Bupa Dental Care runs a people survey to find out about the issues that really matter to our organisation. By far one of the strongest themes I’ve seen emerging from our last few surveys is sustainability in dentistry and what we can do to reduce our environmental impact – it’s an issue our people care deeply about.

There’s no doubt dentistry has some work to do on this front; practices produce large amounts of plastic waste in the form of oral hygiene products, single use instruments, plastic cups and disposable gloves, and travel to and from practices accounts for a high proportion of carbon emissions, negatively impacting air quality.

Reducing carbon emissions

As a healthcare company, Bupa’s purpose is to help people live ‘longer, healthier, happier lives,’ and protecting the health of our planet is an important part of this.

In the UK, Bupa has recently announced it is becoming carbon neutral. This follows work on a range of projects to measure and reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint, for example all the electricity used in our premises across the UK, including dental practices, now comes from renewable sources. We’ve also signed up to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now initiative to offset our remaining carbon emissions through investing in UN-backed environmental projects such as reforestation and clean energy.

This is a great milestone for our organisation. We’ve been measuring our carbon footprint for nearly a decade and working to reduce carbon emissions every year since – to date achieving a reduction of 37% against the 2009 baseline.

Dental initiatives

Research has shown that the majority (65%) of carbon emissions generated in dentistry come from travel[1], including from staff and patient journeys, as well as deliveries and transporting laboratory items to and from practices. To help address this, we’ve updated our practice screens to include information asking our patients to consider more sustainable options when travelling to their appointments, such as walking, cycling or public transport, and have updated our website to provide information about how to get to our practices via public transport.

Waste is another area where we’re looking to make a difference. As an organisation, Bupa is a signatory to the Business in the Community’s Waste to Wealth Commitment which aims to eliminate avoidable waste by 2030. This means we won’t have any non-hazardous waste sent to landfill.

We’ve also started looking at our procurement practices and seeing where there are opportunities to make improvements, for example addressing single-use plastics use through replacing plastic cups with paper or glass alternatives, plastic instruments with reusable metal substitutes, and having water refill stations to stop people buying bottled water.

I read some shocking stats recently[2] which said that we dispose of hundreds of millions of  toothbrushes in the UK each year, and that it can take 400 years for a plastic toothbrush to degrade.
I’m aware of the Colgate and Terracycle free recycling scheme where people can dispose of products such as plastic toothbrushes, floss containers, electric toothbrush heads and toothpaste cartons at public drop-off locations to be recycled and made into new products. Some of our practices are taking part in this scheme and it is something we will look to develop further.

While we’re making some positive steps within our organisation, we recognise there is still much more work to do on our sustainability journey. I’m proud that our staff have recognised this and are committed to making a difference. I’d be interested in hearing what other organisations are doing to reduce their environmental impact and share ideas about how we can make a positive change within the dental community.

 

Gabriela Pueyo, General Manager Bupa Dental Care

 

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41415-019-0115-z

[2] https://bda.org/news-centre/blog/Pages/Dentistry-the-toothbrush-and-sustainability.aspx

 

 

 

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