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The Sustainable Advancement in Surgical Instrumentation

June Medical | Angela Spang
June Medical | Angela Spang

Galaxy II Self-Retaining Surgical Retractor

In the ever-evolving world of healthcare, advancements are constantly being made to improve patient outcomes and minimize environmental impacts. June Medical’s Galaxy II self-retaining surgical retractor is a prime example of such innovation.

This article explores how the Galaxy II stands out from its competitors, emphasizing its superior environmental profile due to its reduced plastic usage. Additionally, we delve into the responsible management of surgical waste, specifically how incineration disposes of waste and benefits society by providing a renewable source of heat for homes. We will also discuss the essential process of cleaning gases emitted from incineration before they are released into the atmosphere and the work to date on a Green Galaxy II.

The Galaxy II and its Environmental Advantages

The Galaxy II self-retaining surgical retractor, developed by June Medical, has garnered attention for its impressive functionality, reliability, and user-friendly design. However, what sets this device apart is its commitment to sustainability through reduced plastic usage. Compared to its competitors, the Galaxy II incorporates less plastic material (only 62g for the Galaxy II Slider), minimizing the environmental footprint associated with its production, use, and disposal.

Plastic Waste Management in Surgical Settings

In surgical settings, properly managing waste is crucial to maintaining a clean and safe environment. Surgical waste, including single-use instruments like retractors, typically ends up in medical waste streams. This waste is carefully segregated, collected, and then sent to specialized facilities for treatment, such as incineration.

In the United States, the disposal of surgical waste often involves sending it to landfills. Landfilling is a common method of waste disposal, where the waste is buried in designated areas. However, this practice can have environmental implications as surgical waste, including plastic-based instruments and other potentially hazardous materials, may take significant time to decompose. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, surgical waste is typically sent for incineration. Incineration provides a more controlled and regulated method of waste management, ensuring the safe disposal of medical waste while also harnessing the energy produced during the process. This divergence in waste management practices reflects the differing approaches taken by these countries in addressing the environmental impact.

The Single-Use vs. Reusable Debate Continues

Many studies have investigated the environmental impact of single-use versus reusable surgical instruments. While reusable instruments have traditionally been associated with more sustainable practices, recent research has shown that single-use instruments can also offer environmental benefits in certain cases.

A systematic review comparing the environmental impact of reusable and disposable instruments in tonsillectomy procedures found that disposable instruments had a lower overall environmental impact. Similarly, a life cycle assessment of reusable and disposable surgical instruments in cataract surgery favored disposable instruments due to lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The economic and environmental impact of reusable versus single-use electrosurgical instruments in laparoscopic cholecystectomy procedures also showed that single-use instruments had lower environmental impacts primarily due to reduced water consumption and energy requirements during reprocessing.

While some studies indicate that single-use instruments may have lower environmental impacts, the decision between single-use and reusable instruments ultimately depends on various factors, including waste management practices, sterilization methods, and the materials used in the devices.

The Role of Incineration in Waste Disposal

Incineration is a well-established method for managing medical waste, including plastic-based surgical instruments. This process involves subjecting the waste to high temperatures, effectively reducing its volume, and eliminating potentially harmful pathogens. One notable environmental benefit of incineration is its ability to provide a renewable source of energy, as the heat generated during the process is often harnessed for district heating systems.

Energy Recovery and Heating Homes

The heat generated from incineration processes is commonly repurposed to provide warmth for nearby residential areas. This form of energy recovery contributes to reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and helps to offset greenhouse gas emissions. By harnessing the thermal energy produced by incineration, homes in the vicinity can be efficiently heated, offering a sustainable and eco-friendly solution.

Cleaning Gases Emitted from Incineration

While incineration offers significant benefits in terms of waste reduction and energy recovery, addressing potential emissions from the process is essential. Gases generated during incineration can contain particulate matter, heavy metals, and dioxins. However, strict environmental regulations and advanced technology ensure that these gases undergo thorough cleaning before being released into the atmosphere.

Modern incineration facilities are equipped with sophisticated air pollution control systems to mitigate the environmental impact. These systems employ various filtration methods, including electrostatic precipitators, scrubbers, and bag filters, to capture and remove harmful substances from the exhaust gases. By efficiently trapping and neutralizing these pollutants, the incineration process becomes more environmentally friendly, aligning with strict emission standards.

The Green Galaxy Retractor- Working Towards a Greener Future

Hospitals have been actively exploring ways to reduce their carbon footprint and adopt more sustainable practices. June Medical’s commitment to sustainability is exemplified by their efforts to create a greener version of the Galaxy II self-retaining surgical retractor.

One avenue of exploration is the idea of recycling. However, recycling surgical instruments, especially those that have come into contact with biological fluids or pathogens, is not feasible due to hospitals’ strict health and safety protocols. Proper handling and disposal of medical waste are crucial to prevent the risk of contamination or exposure, and recycling specific items may compromise the integrity of waste management processes.

Changing materials of surgical instruments is another consideration for reducing environmental impact. However, this process faces regulatory challenges as modifications to medical devices, including their materials, can have significant implications for patient safety and product performance. Specialized medical-grade plastics used in surgical instruments undergo rigorous testing and evaluation to ensure compliance with stringent standards for biocompatibility and durability.

Moreover, medical devices, including the Galaxy II retractor, undergo sterilization processes, potentially affecting the materials’ mechanical properties. Manufacturers must carefully select materials compatible with sterilization methods or implement protective measures to maintain device integrity.

June Medical has also made progress in packaging sustainability. Using plain boxes without printing reduces the need for harmful chemicals in inks and dyes and saves energy during printing. Reusing shipping boxes, though they may not have the pristine appearance of new ones, significantly reduces demand for new box production, conserving valuable resources and reducing waste sent to landfills.

In terms of transportation, manufacturing medical devices in the UK, closer to European countries, reduces transport distance and associated carbon emissions. By embracing online meetings and reducing travel, June Medical has significantly decreased CO2 emissions, contributing to a more sustainable approach to business operations.

June Medical’s 2019 Climate Emergency Pledge exemplifies their dedication to being carbon neutral by 2025, demonstrating their commitment to environmental responsibility and inspiring others in the healthcare sector to follow suit.


June Medical’s Galaxy II self-retaining surgical retractor exemplifies the healthcare industry’s continuous efforts to minimize environmental impacts. The Galaxy II’s reduced plastic usage showcases a sustainable alternative to traditional surgical retractors. Additionally, the responsible management of surgical waste through incineration disposes of waste effectively and generates renewable energy for heating homes. Furthermore, the stringent cleaning processes ensure that incineration emissions are within regulatory limits, safeguarding the environment and public health.

By embracing even small advancements, healthcare professionals and institutions can significantly contribute to a greener future by switching to Galaxy II from other retractors. June Medical’s dedication to sustainability and its ongoing efforts to create a greener version of the Galaxy II retractor reinforce its commitment to a more sustainable planet and safer surgery globally.

About the Author

Angela Spang is a Swedish-born medical device innovator. She lives in the UK and has won numerous awards, most notably The Queens Award 2021 for Innovation for her Galaxy II surgical retractor.

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