Christchurch company Medsalv is remanufacturing and reusing thousands of supposedly “single-use” medical devices, keeping them out of landfills and enabling hospitals to save significant amounts of money.
Medsalv was born out of a desire to eliminate the growing environmental and financial waste in New Zealand's healthcare sector. “I was doing my Masters of Engineering when I saw the possibilities for remanufacturing and reuse,” says CEO and founder Oliver Hunt.
The scale of the problem also highlights the opportunity. More than 330,000 surgeries are performed in New Zealand annually. With the exception of the devices Medsalv collects and remanufactures, every single-use device used in a surgery goes into a landfill, even those that are good candidates for being broken down into raw materials and recycled.
“We believe this puts around 1,700 tonnes of unnecessary waste into landfills every year, and the cost of not remanufacturing and reusing these devices is about $100 million to the healthcare system – or about 12 per cent of our spend on medical equipment”.
Medsalv now works with more than half of New Zealand’s surgical hospitals, including several in Auckland, using proprietary equipment and processes to remanufacture thousands of supposedly single-use devices. Hunt says they aligned Medsalv with the public sector early on so they could work effectively with the new structure.
The company has also begun to deliver bespoke reusable products – where they have determined the existing single-use versions can’t be remanufactured which Hunt says is “another step to help hospitals reduce their waste – and though not our core business, closely aligned with our mission.”
Medsalv is gearing up to meet demand and thinking about offshore opportunities, though Hunt says Covid-19 is forcing a near-term view of the market. “It’s the same problem/opportunity equation: we need to ensure our staff are safe and that we can keep our plant going, while also responding to new opportunities – remanufacturing devices that are in short supply because of Covid-driven interruptions in both manufacturing and logistics.”
Hunt says the benefits extend beyond simple budget savings. “Re-use makes environmental sense. It directly reduces the volume of waste, and that lower volume also enables recycling of devices after they can no longer be reprocessed, eliminating most landfill waste. With all remanufacturing undertaken locally, it allows New Zealanders to contribute to their health system and reduces reliance on international imports. Through Medsalv, Hospitals are dramatically reducing supply costs without compromising quality or safety. Savings made through remanufacturing can then be reinvested into advanced patient care.”
“Worldwide, the healthcare sector generates almost 5 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions and is showing no signs of slowing down. If the global healthcare sector was a single country, it would be the world’s fifth-largest polluter by the amount of greenhouse gases it emits.”
He believes New Zealand’s hospitals should be choosing medical devices and other products which can be remanufactured and re-used wherever possible, even extending to single-use items such as plastic water bottles, pill cups and drinking cups.