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Eco-Friendly Acupuncture: 9 Steps to a Sustainable Practice

Updated: Oct 28, 2023


Healthcare worker holding a globe.

As an acupuncturist, I am deeply committed to the well-being of my patients and the planet. Acupuncture is a powerful healing modality, and I am grateful to be able to help people live healthier, happier lives. However, I am also aware of the environmental impact of my practice and acupuncture clinics in general. From disposable needles to paper waste, there are many ways in which our practices can be more sustainable. That's why I am passionate about finding ways to reduce our environmental footprint. I am excited to share nine steps you can incorporate to make your practice more Eco-Friendly. I hope these insights will inspire other acupuncturists to join me in making a difference for the planet.


Why is sustainability important in Acupuncture?


Sustainability is important in all industries, but it is crucial in healthcare. After all, our health depends on the health of the planet. When we pollute the environment, we are harming ourselves and future generations. According to the World Health Organization(WHO), “Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity.” Acupuncture clinics may be a small part of the bigger picture, but we can still make a difference. By adopting sustainable practices, we can reduce our environmental impact and contribute to a healthier future for all.


Eco-Friendly Acupuncture: 9 Steps to a Sustainable Practice


1. Digitize Administrative Tasks:


Acupuncture clinics often rely heavily on paperwork for forms, records, and other administrative tasks. Transitioning to Electronic Health Records (EHR) and digital bookkeeping can dramatically reduce paper consumption. Beyond the environmental benefits, this shift enhances clinic organization and eliminates the need for storage space dedicated to paper files, ultimately cutting costs. After all, who wants to pay rent for file cabinets? A paperless clinic not only reduces waste but also operates more efficiently with less clutter.


2. Table Paper: An Avoidable Waste:


Women at acupuncture office with cups on her back.

Another source of waste in acupuncture clinics is disposable table paper. After just a single day of treatment, substantial amounts of table paper are discarded, contributing to environmental burdens. It's important to note that using table paper does not enhance infection control compared to using disinfectant wipes. Moreover, it can be bothersome for patients, producing crinkly sounds and sticking to their skin after treatment. For exams and sports medicine, consider forgoing table paper completely. To create a more spa-like atmosphere, clinics can create a cozy vibe by opting for washable sheets.


3. Minimize Acupuncture Needle Waste:


Acupuncture needles must be sterile and single-use to prevent infections. However, reducing the environmental impact associated with these needles is possible. Instead of using individually packaged needles, clinics can opt for 10-needle multipacks, substantially decreasing packaging waste. The image below highlights the plastic and paper waste difference between ten single packaged needles and a 10-needle multipack. This small change can make a significant environmental impact.


Comparison of the waste from different acupuncture needle packages. With a reusable guide tube.

4. Metal Guide Tubes an Eco-Friendly alternative:


Consider reusable metal guide tubes rather than disposable plastic tubes. Japanese acupuncturists have employed metal guide tubes for centuries due to their numerous advantages, and AcuArtistry makes naturally antimicrobial guide tubes for most major needle brands. Metal guide tubes have rounded edges for a more comfortable patient experience, and their stiffer material allows practitioners to maneuver tendons and veins without causing discomfort. These reusable guide tubes can be easily disinfected or autoclaved between uses, ensuring safety and eco-friendliness.


5. Eco-Friendly Disinfectants:


While acupuncture clinics use fewer chemicals for cleaning and sterilization compared to other medical practices, it's essential to choose environmentally friendly disinfectants that are also effective. Some natural sanitizers may have yet to undergo rigorous testing and may not be effective against all pathogens. To ensure efficacy and environmental responsibility, select disinfectants registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can find a list of registered products and better understand EPA labeling to ensure your natural disinfection works.


6. Heat Lamps:


TDP and heat lamps are commonly used for therapeutic purposes in acupuncture clinics. However, turning off these lamps when they are not in use is vital. Some practitioners habitually turn their heat lamps on in the morning and off when they leave at the end of the day. This means their heat lamp is on all day, needlessly consuming power and reducing the lifespan of expensive equipment—simple actions like turning off equipment when not in use can conserve energy and reduce electricity bills.


7. Switch to LED Bulbs:

Light bulb with a plant in it.

Lighting contributes up to 20% of the world's total energy usage. Replace incandescent bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs in your clinic space. LED bulbs have a longer lifespan and consume significantly less energy, making them a sustainable choice. Some LED bulbs even offer the flexibility to adjust the color and temperature of the light, allowing you to create the ideal ambiance for your clinic. You can make them brighter while needling and dimmer when the patient rests. While LED bulbs may have a higher initial cost, they ultimately save both money and the environment over time.


8. Support Small Local Manufacturers:


Acupuncture clinics often source products, such as needles and herbs, from Asian countries. However, an increasing number of domestic suppliers are entering the market. Choosing locally-made products helps reduce the carbon footprint associated with importing supplies from distant countries. Supporting local manufacturers not only benefits the environment but also contributes to the growth of your local economy.


9. Patient Education:


As medical practitioners, we frequently engage in conversations about lifestyle choices as a crucial aspect of our medical practice. This uniquely positions us to guide our patients in understanding the relationship between their environment and their health, as well as how they can make positive changes that benefit their well-being and the environment. By offering small, practical suggestions, we can gradually help our patients transition towards a healthier and more sustainable and lifestyle.


Acupuncture clinics possess a unique opportunity to harmonize traditional healing practices with modern environmental consciousness. By adopting sustainable strategies and minimizing waste, our healthcare spaces can make a substantial positive impact on the planet while maintaining a commitment to patient well-being. As acupuncture practitioners, let us embrace the holistic principles of balance and harmony not only in our treatments but also in our approach to environmental stewardship. Together, we can ensure a healthier future for our patients and the planet.



References:


Waters E. End of the roll for examination table paper? Can Fam Physician. 2020 Oct;66(10):748-749. French. PMID: 33077455; PMCID: PMC7571657.


Manuela Franz & Franz P. Wenzl (2017) Critical review on life cycle inventories and environmental assessments of LED-lamps, Critical Reviews in Environmental Science and Technology, 47:21, 2017-2078, DOI: 10.1080/10643389.2017.1370989


Chew, I., Kalavally, V., Oo, N. W., & Parkkinen, J. (2016). Design of an energy-saving controller for an intelligent LED lighting system. Energy and Buildings, 120, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enbuild.2016.03.041


Walker, H., & Preuss, L. (2008). Fostering sustainability through sourcing from small businesses: Public sector perspectives. Journal of Cleaner Production, 16(15), 1600-1609. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2008.04.014



About the Author


Mark Parzynski. DAOM, L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and educator with a diverse background in the field. He has studied in the United States, Japan, and China and uses a range of unique therapeutic approaches to create personalized treatment plans for his patients. Dr. Parzynski has over a decade of experience as a clinical supervisor and has taught graduate students and clinicians.

In addition to his work in acupuncture, Dr. Parzynski is also a skilled craftsman and silversmith. He began making teishin and gua sha tools as an acupuncture student. His passion as an artisan has continued, and for over a decade, he has been making tools for practitioners worldwide, including some of Japan's most renowned masters.

Dr. Parzynski is also a Chinese internal martial arts practitioner, which he incorporates into his acupuncture practice and daily life. He was a senior student of the late Sifu Gregory Fong and has taught Taiji Quan, Yi Quan, and Qi Gong since 2006.

For acupuncture tools and classes provided by Dr. Parzynski, visit www.AcuArtistry.com

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