Q&A with Seattle Children's Hospital Director of Environmental Services

November 1, 2009
Allison Tsai
Allison Tsai

Allison is an Advanstar associate editor

More healthcare facilities want to cut back on consumption to save money and save the environment

Tell me about the green features and programs you have implemented at Seattle Children's.

In 2006, Children's became an active member of Hospitals for a Healthier Environment (H2E) which included participation in online seminars to learn more about green initiatives. During this time, I noticed the work of a partner at H2E and had done some groundbreaking work on medical waste minimization as Beth Israel Medical Center's Medical Waste Manager. Seattle Children's initial goals in 2006 included reducing waste and making Children's mercury free.

Children's has additionally followed Continuous Performance Improvement (CPI) methodologies for nearly a decade. As one of the goals from CPI projects was to eliminate waste, it fit right in line with the 2006 goals.

I quickly realized there are many costs associated with reducing waste. For example, there's a difference between solid waste and recycling or the common misunderstanding that recycling is free when it is not. Additionally, people assume hospitals produce a lot of medical waste and that the preferred method for dealing with this waste is incineration, but this is not true either.

From 2006 to 2007, we started to look at our waste overall and were able to start profiling our waste and recycling streams. We began using a scorecard to see a baseline of our waste and from this scorecard, we found that of all the materials we processed solid waste was about 65%, recycling about 24%, regulated medical waste about 10% and hazardous materials 1%. For perspective, the numbers in terms of percentages were fairly consistent with hospitals of Children's size.

Throughout 2006 we started to work on basic recycling schemes which included developing and promoting signage, and monitoring recycling flows. During this time we were also approved to replace the hospital's old cardboard balers with recycle auger compactors, which could compact materials on a 6-to-1 ratio. The compactor was a game changing moment for Children's because it meant that we could go from a labor intensive process of breaking down cardboard, to a machine that pulverized and compacted paper and cardboard materials.

What other opportunities were there to reduce waste?

One of the most interesting issues in sustainability projects is once things start to happen you can't stop the momentum. Our Operating Room (OR) group has done very impressive CPI work and the initial program in this division consisted of a very low tech CPI approach. OR staff positioned containers in the determined right locations to capture solid waste and recycle waste. The results of this on-going work has been impressive and the OR team was able to divert solid waste and recycling materials from the medical waste stream. In 2008, the OR diverted 38,000 pounds of solid waste and recycling from the medical waste stream and since the beginning of 2009 the OR team has diverted approximately 66,000 pounds of medical waste or approximately $63,000 in cost savings.

In 2008, Seattle Children's continued our ambitious "Go Green" initiative along with a collaborative multidisciplinary sustainability committee to promote green programs and practices. We expanded our recycling programs to include all mixed recycle materials to make it easy to recycle. In 2008, we achieved a 32% overall recycling rate as compared to 24% in 2007.

On Earth Day 2008, Children's finalized an agreement with a vendor to recycle our sharps containers which would eliminate 9,000 pounds of plastics from the landfill in 2008 (and estimated 18,000 pounds diverted for 2009).

Additionally, we implemented a single stream recycling program allowing us to recycle mixed materials into single blue recycle containers which allows us to divert a few more tons of materials each month from the solid waste.

In September 2008, we implemented a new pharmaceutical drug waste program. and we are the first hospital in the state of Washington to implement this comprehensive program that meets both compliance and the environmental intent to ensure that we will not pollute our waterways in an effort to protect our environment and human health.

Our 2008 waste management plan: recycled 450 tons of mixed recyclable materials (90 more tons of recycled materials compared to 2007) cardboard, paper, glass, and plastics, compost, recovered metals, including recycling 3 tons of batteries, 4,930 fluorescent lights, 2,599 printer toner cartridges, 17 tons of computers and electronic equipment, 3 tons of hazardous chemicals, and 50 gallons of kitchen grease was recovered to produce bio-diesel. In 2008, we shredded and recycled so much confidential paper we saved 4,780 trees from the paper mills. Through better sorting and segregating medical waste our OR diverted 38,000 pounds of solid waste and recycling from the medical waste stream. Overall by using better ways of identifying, single stream recycling, OR segregation of waste and recycle from medical waste, consuming less and using non-hazardous alternatives, or recovery options, Children's reduced 3.5 more tons of hazardous waste in 2008 compared to 2007.