A University of Washington Medical Center nurse discusses her success in bringing sustainability
to the OR.
Looking to new and innovative sustainable solutions is exciting, but it’s also a good idea to examine existing programs that might not be as glamorous, but are just as beneficial and important to the organization’s mission. The University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) in Seattle, Washington, has been working on greening initiatives for several years, and recently decided to take a deeper dive into the operating room department. Sustainable alternatives include decisions such as choosing reusable linens and products, using rigid hard cases for surgical instrumentation to reduce overwraps and packaging, and reviewing and reformulating OR kits to reduce the amount of unused supplies ending up in the landfill. UWMC also has implemented a reprocessing program, saving more than $383,000 annually in combined supply and disposal costs, as well as diverting 5.25 tons of waste from the landfill.
In 2012, UWMC decided to expand its recycling and waste minimization efforts in the OR department. To start, its team evaluated random samples of typical OR “trash” and determined which products were eligible for the recycling stream. Then the UWMC solid waste and recycling department provided photographs of these items with the appropriate waste stream identified to help educate and ensure successful implementation.
Identifying champions to motivate peers is imperative to program success. For UWMC, this champion was OR nurse Victoria Rice-Bean, RN, CN; she reactivated UMWC’s OR green team and championed the recycling and waste minimization efforts.
Success in Greening the OR
I was shocked at how much waste a large surgical department generated. We do a lot of big cases, and there was an extraordinary amount of “garbage” at the end of each case. Initially, I doubted my ability to change attitudes and practices in such a big facility. However, greening our operating room was so important to me that I went ahead and made the effort anyway.
I went to the UWMC recycling office first and shared my idea with them. I met Emily Newcomer that day, and she has been a fantastic teammate from day one. She directed me to our environmental services manager, Tim Nguyen, who jumped at the opportunity to include Surgical Services with his own highly successful sustainability programs at UWMC. The operating room nurse educator, Deena Young-Guren, was also a great supporter of this initiative and provided guidance.
After more than a year of planning, meetings, and staff education, we went live in December 2012 with our OR Recycling and Sustainability Initiative.
Our efforts have not been limited to recycling, however. We have educated staff on the appropriate use of red biohazard bags, drastically reducing their use and associated expense. We were also trained in the use of reprocessing bins, provided by Stryker Corporation. We found that many items previously going into garbage or sharps containers can be reprocessed. These bins represent the only truly cost-free waste disposal for the OR, and increasing their utilization saves the hospital money and protects the environment from excess landfill.
Other departments in the hospital are eager to join us! The Roosevelt Outpatient Surgery Clinic and the Cath Lab will launch their programs in February. The Electrophysiology Lab and Labor and Delivery are in the planning stages to get their own programs going as soon as possible. I am collaborating with Harborview Medical Center in an effort to share information and standardize as many of our practices as possible.
Through doing this, I have learned so much about what I used to call garbage! But, perhaps more important, I learned that one person with a passion can change the world—the surprising thing was that it turned out to be me.
Victoria Rice Bean, RN, CN, is an OR nurse at the University of Washington Medical Center.