The extensive use of natural resources threatens to exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth. The concept of a circular directs towards sustainable growth, good health, and decent jobs while saving the environment and its natural resources. The change from a linear economy (take, make, dispose of) to a circular economy (renew, remake, share) is expected to provide support to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production. 

One of the major components of the global economy is healthcare, with OECD nations spending an average of 9% of their GDPs on it. Aging populations, rapid medical advances, and the rising prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases all mean this expenditure is expected to grow in the coming years. In a paper published in Environmental Research Letters, a team led by scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research observed that CO2 emissions from healthcare in the world’s largest economies account for about 5% of their national carbon footprints. They stated that the combined emissions from health services and the medical supply chain across the OECD group of market-based economies make up around 4% of the global total. This is a larger share than either aviation or shipping which are big contributors to CO2 emissions.

While pharmaceuticals are essential for human health, not much is known on the effects they have on the freshwater sources and their impact on human health and biota. Drug residues excreted by the pharma manufacturing plants linger in water bodies for months or even years. The challenging part is that the effects of these residues are hard to isolate and sometimes poorly understood. According to reports, anti-depressants like Prozac might disrupt frog development. So effluents remain one of the biggest obstacles in making drugs eco-friendly.

Practice Greenhealth is a non-profit that tries to make hospitals more sustainable. The organization estimates that 25 percent of the total waste generated by a hospital is plastic. A study on hysterectomy found that the procedure can produce almost 20 pounds of waste, majority of which is plastic. Single-use plastic can be an appealing option for hospitals as they are inexpensive, durable, easily tossed out and each new fresh plastic container or covering offers a newly sterile environment. However, plastic can easily end up in marine environments, where it breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics that have severe health consequences. And the fossil fuels required to produce those plastics can contaminate air and water and contribute to CO2 emissions. Therefore, people are now looking at sustainable alternatives to modern medicine and one of the most prominent medicine practices is Ayurveda. 

Ayurveda is a holistic medical system that is widely practiced in India. The word Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘science of life.’ Ayu means ‘life’ or ‘daily living’ and Veda means ‘knowing’ Ayurveda is a system of medicine that deals with health in all its aspects; physical health, spiritual well-being, mental balance, environmental considerations, social welfare, dietary and lifestyle habits, daily living trends, as well as treating and managing specific diseases The origin of Ayurveda is lost in prehistoric times, but its characteristic concepts appear to have matured between 2,500 and 500 B.C. in ancient India. The earliest references to drugs and diseases can be found in the Rigveda and Atharvaveda.

Ayurveda is all about Dharana and Dharma, both Sanskrit words denoting a sustainable complex of life and living: the first within the organism itself and the second within society and the world. Ayurveda is almost – in a positive sense – preoccupied with ‘sustaining life’: as a science, it focuses on preserving life down to the cellular level of each living organism, and first and foremost of human beings. One of the reasons that sustaining and preserving human life is so important in Ayurveda, is a result of the fact that it is a spiritual science that sees this life – and our bodies as temples for our souls – as a way to evolve spiritually. This evolution is not for personal gain, but for the greater common good: Ayurveda sees life as one, and not as a fragmented event.

Ayurveda gives definite guidelines for lifestyle and nutrition, which all fit within a framework of Dharma. Dharma supports something that carries responsibility for the entire society and humanity, and thus also regarding ethical and environmental matters. Lifestyle – according to Ayurveda – should be helping to preserve a healthy environment and support of nature, in all possible aspects. This leads to supporting responsible behavior in keeping our water, our nature, our forests, our cities, our air, and precisely our whole life, as clean and pure as possible. It also implies a natural care for good and sustainable food sources, and agriculture which preserves not only life in the sense of clean and pure production but also responsible and safe nutritional methods. Good examples include active support of organic and biodynamic farming, support for natural agricultural systems such as permaculture, as well as active resistance of technical and not safe-proof production methods such as with GMO foods. It also promotes the wise and respectful use of animal products.

According to the sustainability goals of Ayurveda, organic and other forms of responsible farming should be used to grow the herbs Ayurveda uses for its remedies. The use of local herbs has been advised over procuring exotic and rare herbs. Commonly available spices such as cumin and turmeric have profound healing properties and are powerful additions in the arsenal of medicinal substances.  Ayurveda makes use of small shrubs to big trees for various purposes and follows certain guidelines for its collection and cultivation. To obtain herbal medicines, Ayurvedics also engages in forestation and cultivation. The use of medicinal plants is oriented to take advantage of their ability to harmonize the balance between the patient and the basic influences of life, such as diet, work, and family life. With more than 2700 plants at its disposal, it is clear that Ayurveda is quite close to nature and its powers. In this way, both doctors and patients easily see their connections to nature.

The hospital wastes of Ayurveda are mostly biodegradable. Also, the pharmaceutical wastes of Ayurveda are biodegradable and some of them make good manure for cultivation. The plastic and other artificial materials not used for treatment make Ayurveda an eco-friendly system. In the Ayurvedic system, every part of the environment is given the importance which makes the optimum utilization of natural resources from Daily usage to the Drug. For example, neem-plant is used for twigs, tooth brushing, and tongue cleaning; Leaves-for medicating the bathing water. Seed oil is used for external applications over the scalp for healthy hair, etc. 

This approach to nature as the source of healing and personal care, with emphasis on the preventive side, is a very welcome feature of Ayurveda, which could permeate and facilitate our approaches to sustainability and the rich relationships between people (society), things (economy) and nature (ecology). Environmental sustainability is highly related to conscious mental and bodily good practice, of which Ayurveda could be considered as a very useful model, not only in the countries where it is traditionally applied but all around the world.