From Surgical Suites to the Streets
U.S. hospitals alone generate 4.8 billion pounds of waste each year, according to the American Hospital Association. Not surprisingly, the association is urging member institutions to make significant reductions in their contributions to the waste stream. And Christopher Bodkin ’11, data manager at the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), is helping hospitals respond.
A national campaign undertaken by three non-governmental organizations and 11 American healthcare systems including Kaiser Permanente and Vanguard Health Systems, HHI comprises nearly 500 hospitals. Over the next three years, HHI will challenge at least 2,000 hospitals to go green through engaged leadership, healthier food, leaner energy, less waste, safer chemicals, and smarter purchasing.
“Because there’s a fiscal driver to all this, smarter purchasing is definitely a challenge,” Bodkin said. “We want to move the market, and one way to do that is to reduce superfluous products.”
Products like medical supplies and surgical instruments are some examples. Hospitals once reused such equipment, but in recent years, discarding equipment after a single use became more convenient—and more in line with federal safety regulations. The challenge, Bodkin said, is to find safe ways to sterilize and reuse those instruments or to melt them down and repurpose them.
“The process starts with the hospitals setting goals and then having equipment manufacturers produce sustainable goods at reasonable prices,” Bodkin said. “If an equipment provider can’t do that, the hospitals can move to another provider.”
One of the challenges of such changes is maintaining strict safety standards, Bodkin said. Another is physician reluctance to use newly designed instruments or manufacturers who are slow to innovate. Yet HHI member systems do report success stories. Hospital Corporation of America saved $17.6 million by reprocessing single-use devices. Those savings increased to $21.7 million the next year. In 2012, reprocessing devices is expected to lower Vanguard Health Systems’ costs by $6 million and reduce the waste it generates by 20 tons.
This success gave Bodkin an idea: why not reprocess surgical blue wrap, the plastic material used to keep surgical instruments sterile during transport to operating rooms? Although it offers effective resistance to chemicals and wear, blue wrap doesn’t stand up to sterilization processes. Once the kits are unwrapped, the blue wrap is thrown away—to the tune of 2,660 pounds a day, according to a recent Maryland study.
“Blue wrap is machine washable and water resistant, and because it never comes into contact with patients, it is as sterile as any other fabric,” Bodkin said.
So instead of sending it to a landfill, Bodkin and his brother Gavin formed blu2green this past April and are turning blue wrap into totes, wine and beach bags, and ties.
“Gavin’s the CFO. I’m the CEO,” Bodkin said. “Right now, we’re designing our prototypes, figuring out our product line, and working with Seven Hills Foundation in Massachusetts to develop a program that will employ physically and socially challenged people to make the products. Our motto is to be socially, environmentally, and fiscally responsible.”
And, he adds, realistic.
“Anyone can say, ‘We’re going to save the world,’ but you need to be pragmatic and focus on one industry or a sector of that industry. That’s the only way to change anything.”
Read more from Wasteland:
Read more about Kat McCarthy '05 and Tompkins County Solid Waste Management
Read more about Shams-il Islam '06 who is helping garbage grow the economy in Bangladesh