Archive September 2017 XVIII, No. 9

Environmental Stewardship: How to Become a Green Machine

Environmentally conscious Deaconess Hospital finds value in a recycling program aimed at "doing what's right."

Bill Donahue, Senior Editor

2017 OR Excellence Award: Environmental Stewardship
special blue container CLEANING UP Clean waste from items opened during a case gets placed in a special blue container and hauled away later for recycling.

Surgery generates about one-fourth of all the waste a hospital generates — from clear plastic to blue wrap to white cardboard — waste that inevitably ends up clogging a landfill somewhere. But Maggie Tharp, BSN, RN, CNOR, says it doesn't have to.

She would know. Earlier this year, Ms. Tharp and other team members from Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Ind., dreamed up an inventive way to reduce the hospital's carbon footprint: a "clean-waste recycling program" encompassing 29 operating rooms spread across 3 campuses.

"I was a naysayer before we started this, but it wasn't because I didn't believe in it," says Ms. Tharp, clinical educator of surgical services and winner of this year's Environmental Stewardship OR Excellence Award. "With EMRs and everything else we're putting on our nurses' plates, sometimes it's almost like they don't have time to breathe. But we found that if you get the right people at the table early on and everybody involved takes a chunk, it won't be a burden; in fact, it can be easy."

Like politics, environmental conservation can be a polarizing issue, but Ms. Tharp says the program received "no pushback whatsoever." With the full support of the administration, representatives from surgery, environmental services, sterile supply processing and materials management got together to determine the program's feasibility. They began the planning process in February 2017, and the program "went live" the following month.

How the program works: Any clean waste from items opened during a case — paper, cardboard, plastic — gets placed in a special blue trash container with a clear liner. Before the patient enters the OR, the clear bag is tied off and the container is rolled into a semi-sterile area. At the end of the case, the clean recyclable waste gets placed on top of the dirty case cart, which is then transported to sterile supply processing. There, staff separates the clean waste from the dirty — the clear liner distinguishes the clean waste from the rest — and takes it to the appropriate outdoor recycling container. A contracted waste hauler then takes the clean waste to a resource center, where it is sorted, bailed and hauled to various mills for use in plastic bottles and packaging materials.

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