Following a full day of surgery—Earth Day, natch—a couple of D.C. cosmetic surgeons started crunching the numbers. Just how much carbon is used in the disposal of sucked-out fat?

Considering that an average of 7 pounds of fat is sucked out per surgery and that national surveys estimate Americans undergo 450,000 liposuctions and tummy tucks annually, that’s about 3 million pounds of yellow, goopy fat to get rid of. Each pound of fat is about 78 percent carbon, but because no one has yet figured out how to make biodiesel out of it in a way that people will, uh, stomach, the fat gets incinerated, pushing about 1,000 tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year. Drs. Navin Singh and Marwan Khalifeh, senior partners at Ivy Plastic Surgery Associates in Chevy Chase, D.C., figured out that creates the pollution equivalent of driving 2 million miles.

So they’re trying to do something about it. Their office is paperless; they’re energy conscious and all of that. But there’s only so much they can do with fat, so to offset handing about 160 pounds of fat per month over to a medical waste disposal service, Singh and Khalifeh are purchasing carbon credits.

Singh calls it a “baby step” for his industry. “The first incentive is to conserve, reuse, recycle. We do as many of those things as possible, but when we can’t, you have to go for a lazier way and purchase credits.”

The surgeons got online at and signed up to spend about $100 to $200 a month on carbon credits, which will (they hope) go to companies and nonprofits involved in pollution reduction, protecting existing forests, planting trees, etc. “You do wonder if this is legitimate or if someone is taking our money and not doing anything, so we spread it around with different companies while we figure this out,” says Singh.

Something else they figured out: If people actually jogged off the weight, that would be cheaper and better for their health, but not actually better for the environment. “They would just liberate that carbon into the air by burning it off,” says Singh.

(photo by keizie)