Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Guardian Dental Goes Green

Staff at Guardian Dental contacted the City of Edmonton's Waste Services in early 2016, looking for information about Edmonton's recycling system. They were developing a sustainability plan and mandate, and wanted to know how they could reduce waste in their office. 

We were thrilled to hear back from them recently with an update on their sustainability journey! Dr. Katherine Roche and her staff are committed to sustainable practices, and hope to inspire other businesses to go green.
It was mid-November 2015 and I was standing in my newly purchased dental practice! I had been working as an associate dentist in several practices for nearly a decade, learning and growing and helping patients. However, one aspect of these offices always bugged me: bags and bags of garbage!

A significant quantity of throw-away, single-use items accumulates throughout the day and ends up in the landfill.  I wanted to do better and find other options.  As the owner of my own office with a supportive and motivated team, I knew I could give environmental practices and purchasing choices the priority they deserve.

The method for our sustainability audit was simple, if not easy: examine everything we placed in the garbage.  Was it essential? Was there a washable or sterilizable alternative? Minimal packaging? Recyclable? Biodegradable? Basically, applying the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra.

Dr. Katherine Roche loves her green, biodegradable gloves.
The dental industry has moved toward disposable items for the sake of convenience. Environmentally friendly products and alternatives are not often priorities.  When we told suppliers our purchasing mandate, there was often a long pause over the phone. Fortunately, we have found some great solutions without compromising the safety or functionality of our dental office.

Now, instead of a full garbage bag of mixed-material trash at the end of a single operating day, the only ‘landfill’ material our office throws away are surgical masks, mini plastic brushes, and plastic-and-wire suction tips, all of which are sourced from BeeSure EcoBee with recycled and biodegradable content. The office also generates compostable material consisting of food waste from our (usually) home made lunches, the completely biodegradable single-use surgical gloves, and paper (non-lined) cups. Every other material is either recycled or reused once it has been cleaned or sterilized.

It has been a long and ongoing process obtaining products that fit our mandate. In some cases, there aren't good alternatives available, and we have encountered some puzzling regulation requirements. We are researching sustainably and ethically sourced floss. Finding an affordable option can be a challenge. Most conventional floss is nylon or Teflon. These materials will never biodegrade. It's heartbreaking to think of this material - so essential to dental health! - slowly compromising our environment, thread by thread.
Our compact washing machine and reusable bibs.
We spent a considerable amount of capital to upgrade our sterilization cassettes to ones that don't require double layers of polypropylene wrap for each sterilization load.  We recycle all of our paper-and-plastic sterilization pouches (separated into components).  We have replaced disposable bibs and head rest covers with bright,waterproof fabric ones which are laundered in a high efficiency washing machine. We use a fast-acting, eco-friendly disinfecting cleaner rather than using disposable plastic sheeting barriers on all surfaces. We appreciate the efforts of all the companies and organizations that support us with environmental options, from EcoBee in California and POH in Oklahoma, to local heroes like Greenmunch and the amazing education team with the City of Edmonton.

The team at Guardian Dental.
For business owners, sustainability efforts are sometimes framed as prohibitively expensive. In reality, our commitment to finding low waste solutions has saved us money over time that is then reallocated toward energy offsets and more sustainable product choices.

It takes time and education to make patients consider the environmental impact of the different businesses they support. Most patients see their dentist once or twice a year and don't consider the cumulative impact. People often think of eco dentistry as something that relates to the materials used to repair their teeth.  I always carefully consider every dental treatment plan for biocompatibility and preservation of existing tooth structure for a lifetime of oral health. However, there is more to my patients' health than the dental care I provide. I want to be constantly considering and investigating ways to conserve resources and preserve the natural environment. I believe in restoring that commitment to a place of priority in all aspects of our lives, our businesses as well as our homes.

Dr Katherine Roche DDS

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