Climate impact of reusable and single-use specula. Life cycle assessment (LCA) screening for UMC Utrecht

The vaginal speculum is a medical instrument used to perform gynaecological examinations. It is also popularly known as a duck’s bill. There are several models on the market in the Netherlands that are used by GPs and gynaecologists. There are metal reusable models and single-use disposable plastic models. Although the metal models are long-lasting and can be used for more than 500 examinations, they are also heavier than the plastic models and need to be sterilised after use.

UMC Utrecht commissioned CE Delft to prepare an environmental comparison between these speculum models. On the basis of this study, UMC Utrecht will be able to make more informed choices when purchasing vaginal specula.

In this report, we present an environmental comparison between a single-use fossil plastic speculum, a single-use biobased plastic speculum and a reusable metal speculum. This exploratory life cycle assessment (LCA) calculates the climate impact, i.e. the carbon footprint, of the three models each time they are used by UMC Utrecht. LCA is a standardised methodology for evaluating the environmental impact a product or process over its entire life cycle.

We conclude that the single-use speculum made of biobased plastic and the reusable metal speculum both have a lower climate impact than the single-use speculum made of fossil plastic. The estimated climate impact of reusable specula if used 500 times is about 55% lower than that of single-use specula made of fossil plastic. Although reusable specula are sterilised after each use, this process has a lower climate impact than the production and transport of single-use fossil specula.