Ellsworth hospital’s Green Team tackles recycling

Posted Oct. 27, 2010, at 7:35 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Kermit the Frog was right.

It’s not easy being green.

It takes effort, time, dedication and planning. But more and more hospitals are looking to “green” practices in an effort to reduce the impact of their operations on the environment. The efforts range from green designs for new buildings to recycling programs such as the one started recently at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth.

“Our mission is to take care of people,” said Bruce Becque, an operating room nurse who heads the volunteers on the hospital’s Green Team. “That also means taking care of the planet. We don’t want to be helping people on the one hand and then do things that will cause a problem on the other end of the process.”

The Green Team formed about two years ago, according to Becque, but recycling didn’t really get started until this fall when the hospital’s trash hauler began offering a Zero Sort recycling program to commercial accounts in the area.

The Green Team has set out about 20 bright blue recycling containers at sites around the hospital all marked with a Green Team logo and instructions on what can be recycled. Items such as cardboard cartons, most plastics, glass and tin cans all can go into one container to be hauled off for recycling.

Hospital administrators have been very supportive, Becque said, and hospital staffers seem to have bought into the program, often offering other suggestions for the Green Team.

“We’re trying to develop a culture of conservation and thrift,” Becque said. “A lot of people already have that sensibility, and they’re glad to have the opportunity to save and recycle at work the way they can at home.”

Recycling is not a new concept and was one of the elements of “Maine Hospitals for a Healthy Environment,” a pledge agreement signed in 2001 between the Maine Hospital Association and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in an effort to reduce both the toxicity and volume of wastes generated by hospitals.

“The most significant part of the agreement was the virtual elimination of mercury from hospitals, and that’s been an extremely successful effort,” said Tamara Butts, director of business development and administration at the Maine Hospital Association. “The practice of using mercury in hospitals has been all but eliminated.”

Although Butts said MHA has not tracked efforts at reducing and recycling around the state, she said almost all Maine hospitals have some type of recycling program, and most also have worked with their purchasing departments to include environmentally friendly packaging as part of their criteria when purchasing equipment.

The Green Team recycling program at Maine Coast focuses solely on general hospital waste. The disposal of medical waste — or red bag waste — is strictly regulated and is not included in this recycling program. Also, office paper, which often contains confidential information, is shredded on site before being recycled separately. The Green Team also has started a separate program for recycling batteries, and the hospital already separates heavy cardboard for recycling.

But from the reception area to the operating room, the big blue bins encourage hospital staffers to recycle. The operating room, Becque said, is particularly resource intensive.

“We use a lot of materials,” he said. “Everything we use comes in boxes. Everything has its own plastic container or tray. If we can eliminate that from the waste stream, we can make a difference.”

And save money. In the last fiscal year, 2010, Maine Coast produced a total of 154 tons of solid waste that cost the hospital about $15,000 in trucking and tipping fees, Becque said.

“If we can cut that in half, that’s a good thing,” he said. “I collect about 150 to 200 pounds a week. That averages out to about 3 percent of our solid waste stream.”

While 3 percent is just a drop in the bucket, Becque said, this is just the start. He hopes to expand the recycling program and to look at other areas in the hospital where it can reduce its impact on the environment.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “This is still a new concept, and cost savings aren’t going to show up yet. But in a year or two, they stand to be significant.”

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