When it comes to patient and attendant experience, hospitals go above and beyond to ensure the highest of standards. During the pandemic, safety and hygiene also entered the ambit of this overall experience. While hospitals have always represented one of the most hygienic spaces, the pandemic added another concept to the mix – minimum contact.
You might think minimum contact would only mean putting an upper limit to the number of people who can use elevators, or the number of people who could visit patients or even the number of nurses and doctors present on each floor at any given time.
However, there is another important aspect of hospital stays that must be covered – in-hospital dining. While F&B might not be one of the first few things you correlate with hospitals, it is an intrinsically important part of the overall experience.
Both in-patient dining and attendant dining are crucial aspects where there can be high contact and a higher risk of virus spread through crockery and packaging.
A push in the right direction
The apparent impact of our cumulative carbon footprint has led to a global shift towards greener solutions across industries. From logistics companies using sustainable packaging solutions to skincare brands refraining from using harmful chemicals in their formulations, green is the way forward. In the context of hospitals, going green has benefits beyond conserving our non-renewable resources. For hospitals, growing green means saving lives every single day.
Why? Because plastic packaging has several detrimental effects on the human body. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), which is one of the most commonly used plastics in food packaging contains an endless list of chemicals including dioxins, vinyl chloride, phthalates, cadmium, lead and ethylene dichloride. These can transfer these toxic chemicals into the food or water that it contains, impacting our immune system and upsetting the gut balance.
In a space where individuals come to heal, plastic cutlery and packaging are, evidently, highly counterproductive to the cause. Considering these facts, several hospitals were already looking to make the switch to sustainable packaging when it comes to serving food to patients as well as their attendants. The COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated the adoption.
So, what is holding back the transition?
Hospitals, as alluded to above, use packaging and cutlery in the context of in-room dining for patients and their canteens/cafeterias for attendants (friends, families, etc.). While a majority of hospitals, especially across metro cities, have already started using sustainable packaging for food available in the canteens, in-room dining remains focused on reusable crockery. In the era of COVID-19, this poses a sufficient enough risk to look at solutions.
However, this is where the challenge occurs – in-room dining needs more focus on hygiene such as proper lids of food containers which are largely available in plastic materials. As canteens and cafeterias work as QSRs, adopting green solutions has been easier for hospitals. For patients, the hospital industry is still looking for safe and hygienic ways to deliver food to their rooms.
Fortunately, new-age sustainable packaging brands are working on solutions to cover in-room dining containers with eco-friendly materials. Once these solutions enter the market, adoption will skyrocket without a doubt. The delivery requirements of hospitals are limited. They need to serve food from the kitchen to patient rooms using heated compartment trays. The risk of spilling or different food mixing together is negligible. Therefore, it will be easier for innovative brands to create containers and meal trays with lids using materials made from agri-residue pulp such as bagasse, which is the fibrous sugarcane waste. Bagasse has the majority of properties of plastic and is completely eco-friendly. It is lightweight, flexible and strong. It can also be moulded into many shapes and sizes to bridge the industry gap that is preventing hospitals from going completely green. With cutting-edge brands on the mission, the future of eco-friendly packaging within hospitals is promising.
Additionally, the management (driven by Chief Medical Officer) also needs to take a keen interest in making this switch and it cannot be left only on the Purchase department. The procurement team is always looking to cut costs while in the current scenario, packaging is expensive but also has benefits in terms of approach, Marketing communication and leading the way in reducing the carbon footprint. It is also about the benefits it brings in terms of disposal as Green Products can be disposed-off along with food waste and doesn’t require special treatment like the plastic products.