Environmental Stewardship: Trash to Treasure: Going Green for the Greater Good


Monongahela Valley Hospital reduces OR waste to help the environment - and the less fortunate.

From blue wrap to plastic film to white cardboard, ORs produce millions of mounds and millions of pounds of waste per year. Rather than cart it away to landfills, Monongahela Valley (Pa.) Hospital recycles its rubbish into park benches and blue wrap blankets. This trash-to-treasure mentality earned the community hospital in western Pennsylvania this year's OR Excellence Award for Environmental Stewardship.

"When it comes to environmentally friendly ideas, everybody is encouraged to think outside the box," says Darcie Opalko, MBA, MS, RN, CNOR, CSSM, the director of surgical services at Monongahela Valley.

With this team-based, anything-goes approach to going green, no project is too big or too small, and everybody's ideas get due consideration, says Ms. Opalko. As a result, Monongahela reduces, reuses and recycles in a number of novel ways.

  • Plastic wrap park benches. Through a partnership with NexTrex, Trex Company's retail recycling program, the hospital recycles the plastic outer wrap that covers virtually every surgical instrument and supply. Already, the composite decking leader has made 2 public park benches from Monongahela's plastic wrap. How it works: NexTrex provides the hospital with labeled recycle bins to collect the plastic wrap. After the hospital accumulates 500 pounds (that's 40,500 plastic films and bags!), NexTrex collects the wrap and creates a public bench that is placed in an area of the hospital's choosing. The hospital collects around 5 pounds of plastic wrap per week — "maybe a little more if we have a few consecutive busy days," says Ms. Opalko — so it needs 100 weeks to save enough for a bench.

    WARM + WATERPROOF During sewing parties, OR staff at Monongahela Valley (Pa.) Hospital stich a layer of fleece into the blue-wrap blankets they donate to local homeless shelters.   |  Monongahela Valley (Pa.) Hospital
    • Blue-wrap blankets (with a fleece lining). Like many facilities, Monongahela sews blue-wrap blankets and donates them to local homeless shelters and other community organizations for use as waterproof blankets. One problem: Blue wrap is waterproof, but it's not warm. Using the inexpensive fleece blankets the facility has an abundance of on-site, a team of volunteers gets together during sewing parties and stitches liners directly into the blue wrap to provide an extra layer of warmth for the folks who'll receive the blankets.
    • Expired doesn't mean retired. Monongahela Valley's approach to sustainability not only benefits humans, it also benefits our furry, four-legged friends. Rather than disposing of recently expired items such as stitches that can no longer be used in the OR, the Monongahela Valley staff will donate surgical items to local vets, animal shelters and zoos.
    • Imaginative repurposing. "Our staff is so creative that if something happens during the course of a case or if they know ahead of time when an item isn't going to be needed, they'll put the item aside before it comes into contact with a patient and find a use for it," says Ms. Opalko. The staff themselves often find creative uses for these items all in an effort to avoid simply throwing them out. For example, saline/water bottles become makeshift ice packs, sponges and towels make great window cleaners, and surgical gowns make great painting smocks for kids.

    "You have to make going green fun," says Ms. Opalko. "People may look at anything extra as a way to pull them away from the patient care or add to their workload, but if it's fun, it'll catch on quickly." OSM

    Creating an Eco-friendly OR
    SINGLE-USE SOLUTION CST Jason West drops a single-use instrument into a reprocessing bin at Lakeside Surgical Center.   |  Laura Rowe, MSN, RN
    • Single-use reprocessing. For the past year, Lakeside Surgical Center in Omaha, Neb., has been on a mission to reduce the medical waste associated with single-use devices. The facility has enrolled in a reprocessing program that offers plenty of green benefits — both environmentally and financially — for reprocessing single-use items. The company provides Lakeside with blue bins to collect the devices, and clear instructions on what can and can't be reprocessed. The list of devices Lakeside sends off for reprocessing is a long one: cautery pencils, pulse ox stickers, pneumatic orthopedic tourniquets, blood pressure cuffs, SCD sleeves, arthroscopic shavers, laparoscopic trocars, staplers, ENT ablation wands and arthroscopic orthopedic cautery wands, says Laura Rowe, MSN, RN, the director of nursing at Lakeside. Items are reprocessed, and the facility can reorder whatever they need through the company at a discounted rate. "We've saved around $7,500 through reprocessing," says Ms. Rowe.
    DUAL PURPOSE AdventHealth Surgery Center Lenexa gives patients these reusable bags.
    • Reusable (and memorable) belonging bags. Instead of giving patients plastic bags to put their belongings in when they change for surgery, AdventHealth Surgery Center Lenexa (Kan.) provides a reusable cloth bag. Patients are then encouraged to use the bags in green ways — at the grocery store, for example — to avoid using plastic bags.

    — Jared Bilski

    Related Articles

    Antimicrobial Linens: Intel for the OR

    The ambulatory surgical center environment is a busy one with many caseloads being handled by an expert team of healthcare professionals....

    Patient Positioning: Intel for Your OR

    One of the most active areas in the outpatient world today is the specialty of orthopedics. Advanced orthopedic surgeries performed in outpatient surgery centers...