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In This Issue:
Everyday, BWH’s OR team focuses on saving lives. In the last few years, the team has taken on another operation: saving the environment.
Since Operation Recycle commenced last year, the OR has recycled 3.3 tons of plastic—just from the OR pods. This doesn’t take in to account bottles from the lounge or lobby or the cardboard and paper the team also recycles.
“Virtually every successful recycling program begins as a grass roots movement, and the OR sets a shining example for us all to follow,” said Arthur Mombourquette, vice president of Support Services. “We all should take responsibility for waste from our departments and find ways to reduce it and recycle it.”
In the OR, that means taking a hard look at reducing red bag waste, or regulated medical waste, which must go through a sterilization and shredding process before heading to a landfill.
“We looked at what goes into our red bags and realized it didn’t all have to go there,” said Holly Sousa, MS, BSN, RN, CNOR. “The old philosophy was that once an operation began, everything was red bag waste, but now we know that’s not true.”
Clean trash, or trash without blood or body fluids on it, could go into a clear bag instead of red. That includes the “mountains of wrappers” from materials that are opened in the OR, Sousa said.
“It’s about discriminately placing your trash,” said Linda Huet, BSN, RN, who led the effort along with Sousa and assistant nurse manager Carole Kubiak, BSN, RN. “We need to change our mindset as health care workers. How we treat our environment directly affects our health.”
Early on in the process, Kubiak and Huet met with Luis Soto, assistant director of Environmental Services. Together, they worked out a way to recycle orthopedic implants containing titanium, which were previously tossed in red bags. The titanium often broke the shredder. “It cost us about $30,000 to repair a broken blade on the shredder, and these implants were the most frequent cause of that,” Soto said. “Finding a way to recycle them results in a huge cost-savings for the hospital.”
Upon learning that Environmental Services recycles cardboard, the team took it a step farther and began separating cardboard from the clear bag waste and placing it in recycle bins for Environmental Services to pick up.
“Then we said, ‘Why can’t we separate plastic, too?’” Sousa said. Each pod began to collect its own plastics and determine the most convenient place for the bins. The department had already been recycling batteries and added bins for bottles and newspapers from the lobby and break areas.
Sousa and Huet educated their colleagues, which was key to the success of Operation Recycle. The two took an eye-opening tour of the hospital’s waste processing area to see exactly how waste is handled. “I’ve been here for 30 years and it blew me away,” Sousa said. “We took photos and turned them into a PowerPoint to show our colleagues what happens when trash leaves the OR.”
Huet advises other departments to educate employees about the importance of recycling. “It can be done,” she said. “It just takes a few motivated people to spread awareness.”
Kubiak noted the importance of making this project a multi-disciplinary team effort and thanked especially patient care assistants for their support.