Gundersen Health System started their recycling program a number of years ago, and it's grown from recycling paper and cardboard to recycling plastic, blue wrap, batteries, X-ray film, lead vests and gloves used in Imaging, plastic O2 sensors used by Respiratory Therapy and more. Today we have an annual recycling/diversion rate of an impressive 64 percent.
Some large organizations think starting a recycling program will hurt their bottom line. Gundersen is proving that's not true; recycling can be a revenue source, not an expense. For example, in 2014 rebates for the metal and X-ray film recycled totaled nearly $14,000. Hauling that waste away would have cost the organization $61 a ton, or $45,000 for the year.
Gundersen began achieving a 45 percent recycling and reuse rate of the solid waste stream in 2014, saving the organization approximately $70,000. Practice Greenhealth uses 25 percent as a baseline for inclusion in the elite Environmental Leadership Circle, which Gundersen has accomplished 10 years in a row. To achieve this rate, Gundersen:
- Recycles/reuses more than 740 tons of materials
- Recycles 477 tons of paper and cardboard, enough to replenish more than 6,000 trees in just one year
- Donates more than 74,000 pounds of medical supplies, equipment, and furniture to more than 20 charitable organizations
- Donates over 6,000 meals to the Salvation Army, meals that otherwise would have become part of the waste stream
Gundersen Campus Renewal
During construction of Gundersen's new hospital, just over 18,711 tons of construction waste was generated and approximately 98 percent (nearly 18,400 tons) was recycled instead of being sent to the local landfill.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Rethink. Those are words Gundersen took to heart when renovating a building that dates back to the late 1800s. Their efforts to incorporate green practices into the remodeling effort resulted in a more than 90 percent diversion rate of construction waste and an environmentally friendly building design.
Recycling in the OR
Operating rooms (ORs) are notorious for creating large amounts of waste. Gundersen believes that one of the biggest keys to their "green" OR program is having a nurse champion who believes in the program and helps get the buy-in of the nursing staff. Over the last several years, Gundersen has developed more than 30 separate initiatives related to reuse and recycling in their Inpatient Surgery area alone.
One of the larger initiatives involves recycling of #1, #2 and #5 plastic, blue wrap and white cardboard used in the packaging of surgical instruments. Before a patient is brought into the OR, nursing staff separate the plastic and cardboard and put the materials in recycling bins.
Reuse leads to cost savings
Gundersen discovered that 95 percent of single use surgical items can be recycled or reprocessed and diverted from landfills. A reuse and recycling company separates the items that can be reprocessed from those that must be recycled. The reprocessed items are remanufactured and sent back to Gundersen, and the company recycles the other items. This program alone saves the organization more than $290,000 annually.
Gundersen Health System has made strides to keep blue wrap out of the waste stream by investing in reusable hard cases for surgical instrument trays. The cases are not an option for every instrument so Gundersen found a way to repurpose the blue wrap still used.
Volunteers turn discarded blue wrap into usable items such as tote bags, aprons for cancer patients to use when they do crafts during chemo treatments, craft bags to hold supplies, small cinch bags to hold patients' personal items and wheelchair and walker bags used in the therapy departments.
Since the program began in 2011, Gundersen has recycled and reused more than 9,400 pounds of blue wrap.
Gundersen's waste management program incorporates recycling and reduction as well as waste planning and control.
Easy changes help reduce food waste, save money
As with any dietary program, there will always be some amount of food leftover and scraps from food prep. In 2010, the Nutrition and Hospitality Services department at Gundersen began using a food waste tracking system called LeanPath®. Baseline results were shocking: about half a ton of food waste was thrown away every week. The LeanPath program provided data staff used to make some fairly simple adjustments to reduce food waste. By 2015, food waste decreased by more than 850 pounds per week, an 80 percent improvement from baseline, equating to an average cost savings of over $30,000.
A byproduct of the food waste reduction program was the creation of a food donation program. Instead of going in the garbage, daily leftovers that are safe to eat but cannot be served in the hospital due to food service regulations are packaged and delivered to the local Salvation Army. Gundersen donates more than 500 meals a month.
Developing a pharmaceutical waste program
When Gundersen's in-house pharmaceutical waste program was created in 2009, the organization was spending $151,000 per year disposing of pharmaceutical waste. Through comprehensive measures and teamwork, Gundersen spent less than $10,000 on hazardous waste disposal in 2015. In addition, 345 pounds of controlled pharmaceutical waste was diverted from the sewer system in the first six months. Today, all pharmaceutical waste is incinerated according to environmental best practices.
Employees sort and separate hazardous waste for shipment, eliminating the need for a third party vendor to package the waste.