Medical Devices Go Green

Posted by mddiadmin on February 1, 2003

Originally Published MDDI February 2003


U.S. medical device manufacturers will soon need to ask another question as they design a product: How “green” is this device?
“An emerging design trend is to ensure that users can dispose of electronics products safely,” says Stuart Perry, director of electrical engineering for Design Continuum in West Newton, MA. Design Continuum has offices in Italy and Korea also, which puts the company on the front lines of new device requirements throughout the world. 

“In the United States, green design is often talked about, but it's not high on clients' priority lists,” Perry continues. “In Europe, creating an environmentally friendly product tops the list of concerns.”

European manufacturers' focus on reducing waste, product toxicity, and planned obsolescence, including single-use packaging, is the result of a new 
European Commission proposal, the Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). The WEEE directive was created in response to increased concern about environmental toxins and the sheer volume of waste created by electrical and electronic equipment, which together have been identified as one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the European Union. Such waste already accounts for 4% of the municipal waste stream and is expected to increase in volume by 3% to 5% annually. 

To curtail the amount of pollutants released into the environment, WEEE requires that new materials be substituted for certain hazardous substances in the design of electrical and electronic products. It also directs manufacturers to recycle, and to label their products as recyclable. Ten categories of electrical and electronic equipment are covered, including medical devices and monitoring and control instruments. (Implanted and infected products will be exempt from the requirements.)

As of January 1, 2008, companies will no longer be permitted to sell products that contain heavy metals, lead, mercury, cadmium, or hexavalent chromium. Two types of flame retardants, polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ether, also must be phased out of use; however, substitutions must not lead to lower fire safety.

“Most electronic packaging has lead in it,” Perry says, noting that designers will need to incorporate lead-free technologies into their designs as U.S. manufacturers become aware of the new EU mandate. “There is now a drive toward using lead-free integrated circuit packaging and soldering techniques. Another area of concern is battery disposal, since cadmium, which is used in the design of rechargeable batteries, is on the WEEE hit list.” Manufacturers are being required to consider a wide range of waste management aspects when designing new products or upgrading current offerings, and environmentally conscious design is gaining momentum, he says. 

To learn more about the WEEE directive, visit comm/environment/docum/00347_en.htm goods.htm

Copyright ©2003 Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry

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