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Digital Issues

Archive >  June, 2014 XV, No. 6

Tips for Greening the Operating Room

Sensible steps you can take today to shrink your carbon footprint.

Dan O'Connor, Editor-in-Chief

recycling GOOD TO BE GREEN If you don't have an intraoperative recycling program to collect plastics, papers and other supplies free of infectious materials, you'll pay more to pollute more.

You have the power to create an environmentally responsible surgical facility, and you won't have to install rooftop gardens, solar panels or water-free urinals to do so. Your greening efforts can start and stop in your operating rooms, home of the energy-sucking overhead lights and land of the clean waste that somehow ends up in red bags. Here are some simple ideas you can implement today that will instantly make your facility a little more environmentally responsible.

Did You Know?
Experts say healthcare facilities are second only to the food industry in contributing to waste products in the United States, producing more than 6,600 tons per day and more than 4 billion pounds annually. Operating rooms and labor-and-delivery suites together account for nearly 70% of hospital waste.

Segregating waste
ORs generate an enormous amount of waste, most of which is generated before the patient enters the room, which means it's considered clean waste and recyclable. This includes plastic packaging and disposable instruments, drapes and gowns, and maybe even a pack of opened but unused sponges from a canceled case that took a wrong turn to the landfill. If you don't have an intraoperative recycling program to collect plastics, papers and other supplies free of infectious materials, you're paying more to pollute more.

Experts say the No. 1 thing you can do today to significantly decrease your volume of medical waste is to properly segregate waste. Simply train your staff to be mindful of the 2 kinds of disposal bags used to separate waste — red bags for infectious and pathologic waste, and clear bags for non-infectious waste. As much as 90% of what ends up in red bags does not meet the criteria for red-bag waste, which of course costs far more to process, says Martin A. Makary, MD, MPA, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md. Items that don't belong in red trash (unless soiled with blood or body fluid, including fecal material) include food wrappers, beverage containers, patient gowns or drapes, gloves, and empty IV bags and used tubing.

 
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