Green Practices: Good for the Environment — and Your Practice

Concern about the environment has reached nearly every industry, and dentistry is no exception. Taking positive steps to help the environment whenever and wherever possible is a great business goal for practices at any stage.

The underlying philosophy of a green practice is to get as close as possible to having no negative impact on the environment. While there are a dizzying array of opinions about what exactly constitutes green dental practices, keeping contaminants out of the environment is always seen as the starting point.

Waste Management

Amalgam Waste

From San Francisco to Miami to New York, dentists have enthusiastically embraced amalgam waste management efforts to help prevent risks to local water resources. Voluntary efforts by local dentists and regional organizations have been effective at staving off additional regulations in many communities.

Whether or not your community has such regulations, there are some common methods of collecting mercury, silver and other amalgam waste, including:

  • Vacuum traps
  • Non-breakable and securely sealed storage containers
  • Consulting with local waste collection agencies

Other practices now use pre-capsulated amalgam alloy and separators as well as apply “mercury-free” filling placements. Some methods require additional costs and training, but you can choose the methods that best fit your practice based on the best management practices suggested by the ADA or through a local free program such as Partners for a Clean Environment (PACE) in Boulder, CO. In many instances, these programs offer certification programs to help you attract new patients by finding environmentally-mindful consumers.

X-ray Waste

Programs and processes are also in place to manage photochemical waste — including fixer and developer, X-ray system chemical cleaners and X-ray lead foils. Some practices have moved to chromium-free X-ray cleaners while others have eliminated waste contaminates by switching to digital radiology.

If there are no regulations or recognition organizations in your region, you can use the resources listed below as a guide to choosing your own best practices to reduce contaminates from your office. Most cities and states include departments that can refer you to the organizations or regulatory agencies for your area. 

Your Sustainable Practice

Using sustainable products to limit waste produced in your practice can provide immediate results. Many small measures — from turning off lights and other electronic equipment when not in use, to switching from regular paper to biodegradable water cups — can help.

For many, achieving the goal of a paperless office is attractive. It saves time (e.g., emails instead of letters) and space (e.g., storage of electronic files rather than paper file cabinets). Other steps available include utilizing electronic data interchange and other digital methods to communicate with patients, specialists, partners, vendors and insurance carriers.

Some providers have opted to make their dental practices greener by adopting the following changes:

  • Eliminate the use of plastic bottles and cans
  • Print business cards and pamphlets using vegetable-based ink and recycled paper
  • Recycle paper and plastic halves of autoclave bags
  • Purchase less toxic disinfectants and surface cleaner solutions
  • Use washable cotton towels instead of paper patient bibs

Office construction and remodeling can also offer opportunities to use greener materials that won’t contaminate water, landfill or contribute to ozone depletion including:

  • Architectural panels made from recycled vinyl or eco-resins
  • Acoustical insulation made from recycled materials
  • Energy-efficient heating and cooling systems
  • Green power purchases
  • Natural fiber furnishings
  • Floorings with natural materials such as Manoleum
  • Paints low in volatile organic compounds

All of these relatively easy changes enhance the health care experience and promote the overall well-being of your patients. Some government agencies — including state and county energy departments as well as trade organizations — can be good resources for current rules and standards to help your dental practice achieve compliance with local regulations or to find suggested methods of decreasing any contaminants that may affect the environment.