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AORN Blog - The Periop Life

5 Ways to Be an Environmental Steward in Your OR

Barbara Belanger, DNP, RN, CNOR - Environmental Health Advocate.

May 22, 2022

In celebration of National Nurses Month, AORN is shining a light on perioperative nurses making a difference beyond the OR.

Periop nurse and environmental health advocate Barbara Belanger, DNP, RN, CNOR, knows nurses have what it takes to get creative with recycling and waste reduction strategies. Through her doctoral project on informing healthcare policy for plastic medical waste recycling, which she recently shared as a poster at AORN Expo 2022, Belanger found that nurses overwhelmingly want to do more to promote environmental health, but don’t know where to start.

As a member of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Center for the Environment and Health, Belanger balances her work between caring for surgical patients and addressing climate change. She sees the importance of her surgical patients’ health as a co-benefit of promoting climate change for planetary health.

“The OR generates over 30% of a hospital’s waste. Healthcare sustainability work is fraught with hurdles that can seem insurmountable, but this is a challenge familiar to nurses,” says Belanger.

She has lots of ideas for nurses to “green” their ORs and even be bold enough to speak to legislators about environmental policy. Here are five ways she suggests nurses can get started.

  1. Get Connected

Join experts on Greening the OR through Practice Greenhealth. Belanger says this organization has tremendous expertise on environmental best practices in healthcare that nurses can directly adopt in their own ORs. For example, Practice Greenhealth suggests that waste reduction in the OR can start with reevaluating inventory and finding alternative options that include recycling.

  1. Get Creative

“Every nurse I’ve worked with has an issue with the vast amount of waste generated in the OR, and who knows better how to find an environmentally safer way to change this than nurses?” For example, Belanger proposes OR nurses advocate for programs to divert clean medical plastic, such as irrigation bottles, into a hospital’s standard recycling program to prevent the bottles being disposed as regulated medical waste. Look to the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council for more on this.

  1. Start with An Easy Win

Blue wrap recycling programs are established in many healthcare facilities across the country and provide a first step for nurses to divert OR plastics from incineration or landfills. Several organizations within the US handle blue wrap waste recycling and coordinate this process across state lines with hospitals already.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up

Through her doctoral project, Belanger found only a handful of states had established fact sheets on the environmental and economic co-benefits from recycling in healthcare. “Nurses are trusted by the public and can play a vital role in shaping public education, even contacting legislators directly to explain just how important it is to promote healthcare recycling.”

  1. Rally Colleagues for the Cause

Creating a green team within your own organization is the perfect way to brainstorm with colleagues about practical, evidence-based approaches to plastic medical waste recycling and other environmental stewardship activities. Based on Belanger’s own journey with a small, interdisciplinary sustainability committee that has expanded hospital-wide, she encourages nurses to be bold and share their passion for the environment with others. “Our work goes beyond recycling to think big about mitigating climate change.”

You can read more about Belanger’s work in the poster gallery at AORN Expo 2022 On-Demand. Virtual pass registration is available through June 16.

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