by John Stan –
Multiple studies on acupuncture have proven the use of a thin solid needle to be an effective technique for the reduction of pain and stimulation of the immune system. The increase in popularity of acupuncture has resulted in a corresponding increase in acu-waste. With more than 10 million acupuncture sessions being offered annually, the amount of acu-waste or acu-trash has been increasing proportionately to the popularity of the technique.
Traditionally, single-use acupuncture needles come individually tubed and packaged in boxes of one hundred needles. Often, the practitioner is required to open multiple single blister packs for the same size needle used in one session. This excessive packaging waste builds up quickly, and practitioners have become increasingly frustrated with the amount of plastic and paper waste generated and the lack of alternative options available to them.
Additionally, different types of acupuncture needles themselves produce varying degrees of environmental stressors. For example, the manufacturing of the different handle types, whether copper, plastic, or stainless steel, can include toxic acidic cleaning baths, excessive plastics, and packaging materials that add an additional front-end, before use, burden on the planet.
To date, there have been modest efforts to address the environmental stress of the profession. Some in the needling manufacturing community have introduced recycled plastics to their products, and some others have bulk packaging for popular needles sizes. While happily received, these efforts are not enough, and the use of bulk packaging has created its own challenges with open packs of needles being vulnerable to spillage and unintended contamination. Eastern Currents Ltd in Vancouver, BC, Canada responded to the call to action from practitioners with a new 360 solution specifically designed to adhere to the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle for environmental sustainability.
The new acupuncture needle brand called Acufast features significant industry firsts which include the following:
- Dramatically reduced packaging compared to any brand in the market, including bulk packed needles. The new packaging results in reduced CO2 emissions due to the reduced bulk and weight of shipping materials and the reduced processing of waste materials.
- The box holding the needles is made from the waste fibers from sugarcane making it easily biodegradable in commercial composting facilities and is also fully recyclable.
- Acufast also comes pouch packed, 10 needles with no tubes. Traditionally bulk packed needles come prepacked 10 needles and one tube. Practitioners generally use fewer tubes than are included with current bulk packaged needles, and some do not use tubes at all, resulting in practitioner frustration with the excess unused tubes going to waste.
- Insertion tubes are manufactured with significantly reduced plastic and offer a unique feature of being soft and pinchable. The combination of the two allows for a new loading method for the needle which significantly saves time!
- Two new accessories, the Acuclip and Acubase provide acupuncturists with convenience, no needle drop or accidental contamination often associated with bulk packaged needles.
- All packaging is made with recyclable or compostable materials. While the recycling of tubes is problematic, the reduction in tube size and separate tube packaging means less tube waste overall. A plastic alternative tube is in the works!
- A small percentage of sales are donated back to environmental causes, making the Acufast an industry first, from manufacturing to end-use. It has positioned itself to be a product that gives back to the environment.
Lhasa OMS on the east coast and Golden Flower Chinese Herbs in the southwest, two well-known suppliers of acupuncture needles in the USA, are the first distributors to offer this product to their customers. Mathew Pike, owner of Lhasa OMS says, “We feel that this product is in line with our company values to support environmental efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle. We are excited to offer Acufast as a green choice to reduce Acu-waste in our industry”.
If just 1000 practitioners in North America currently using single tubed needles switch just one of their popular sizes of needle to the new, reduced packaging brand, the reduction of waste is staggering. In just one year 13,832 Kg (30,494.34 lbs ) of acu-waste can be eliminated from landfills.
These numbers are based on just one size of needle in a moderate use clinic, so the numbers become profound if more users make the switch! ”It is very exciting to see the potential benefit to our planet that this brand brings”, says John Scott DOM, and owner of Golden Flower Chinese Herbs.
In addition to the reduced acu-trash, the give-back program donates a portion of the profits back to environmental charities. From raw material reduction, reduced packaging sizes, compostable and recyclable materials, and the charity donations, Acufast is the first acupuncture needle that offers an alternative option for practitioners who care about their patients and the planet.
Acufast needles are anticipated to be available in Canada by mid December and available from Eastern Currents at that time.