Greening the Operating Room
You might think it’s strange that we had to take care of the blue to go green in our Fletcher Allen operating rooms, but let me tell you how we did just that – and why.
When we started our recycling program at Fletcher Allen, we discovered that we could not recycle the “blue wrap” we use to sterilize medical instruments during surgery or sterile procedures. The blue wrap is considered a “specialty plastic” – different from the bottles and containers we typically think about when it comes to recycling. Blue wrap is not easily processed. But, I was determined to find someone who would take the stuff from us and help us recycle it!
I started researching everything about blue wrap: how it was made (it’s actually a plastic fabric), what other hospitals were doing (only a handful had a blue wrap recycling program), and how it gets recycled (it is shredded with a textile shredder, melted down, and turned back into a plastic pellet, which can then be sold to plastics manufacturers to start the process all over again.)
After talking to people across the country, I found an answer right in our own backyard – St. Albans, Vermont to be exact. Canusa Hershman Recycling Company signed on to take our blue wrap! I was elated. We buy approximately 16 tons of blue wrap per year. To know that now we could now save all of this plastic fabric (that would never break down) from going into the landfill was an amazing feeling.
We started collecting blue wrap in the operating rooms in July 2011. Once other departments started to hear about the program, we added them, too. We’ve collected close to 17 tons of blue wrap.
We are so lucky to in Vermont. Our state is so open to projects like this one, and we have programs in place that allow sustainability to happen easily. The Vermont Mandatory Recycling bill that was passed in the spring will push the state toward the goal of recycling and composting all solid waste, with as little as possible going to the landfills.
My next goal is to work with other Vermont hospitals on recycling blue wrap. It would be great to say that Vermont recycles blue wrap as an entire state. I think it’s a reachable goal.
We’ve come a long way since I first started this project – both at the institutional level, and on a personal level for me. Truthfully, I got into sustainability by accident. I read an article in Rolling Stone that talked about all of the world’s waterways becoming the “water landfills” of our time. It was such an eye-opening and disturbing subject that I felt compelled to do something. I knew I couldn’t do anything on a global level, but I knew I could have an impact in my own community. Little did I know I would become THE expert of blue wrap recycling!
Monique Citro is a Communications Specialist in the Operating Room at Fletcher Allen Health Care. She received the Vision Award from Fletcher Allen in 2012 for her work on the blue wrap recycling program and spoke about her work at the 2013 CleanMed Conference, hosted by Practice Greenhealth. Learn more about Fletcher Allen’s Environmental Commitment.
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