Sustainability is paying off at YNHH, one of country's greenest

In addition to reprocessing selected OR equipment, operating room staff have also improved recycling efforts over the past year. New, easily recognizable recycling bags have replaced bags that were often confused for regular trash bags, making the disposal of recyclable plastics more efficient. After a surgery, Matt Wohlstram, supervisor, Perioperative Services, and Lynn Shaw, RN, first assistant, Perioperative Services, dispose of plastic supplies and packaging in the new disposal containers.
In addition to reprocessing selected OR equipment, operating room staff have also improved recycling efforts over the past year. New, easily recognizable recycling bags have replaced bags that were often confused for regular trash bags, making the disposal of recyclable plastics more efficient. After a surgery, Matt Wohlstram, supervisor, Perioperative Services, and Lynn Shaw, RN, first assistant, Perioperative Services, dispose of plastic supplies and packaging in the new disposal containers.

Twelve million pounds of trash — about eight percent of the country's carbon footprint — that gets transported to landfills each day. Healthcare institutions across the country are adopting sustainable initiatives that encourage healthier patients, staff and environments. In recent years, Yale-New Haven has established new programs and revamped existing ones, and the hospital is already seeing the benefits.

Two years ago, the trash volume on the York Street Campus of YNHH was 76 percent of total waste. Regulated medical waste (RMW) was 9 percent, and the hospital recycled about 13 percent of its total waste. One year later, targeted efforts throughout the hospital had decreased trash volume to 66 percent, RMW dropped to 8 percent and recycling climbed to 24 percent.

"We are definitely headed in the right direction with our recycling and waste management efforts," noted Cristina DeVito, sustainability coordinator, Environmental Services. "By properly disposing of waste, employees play an important role in the success of our waste management programs."

The simplest strategy for managing waste is to categorize and properly dispose of it, putting the right materials into the right containers. Each type of waste has different disposal costs — disposal of recyclable items is less expensive than regular trash and medical waste. Not only does recycling save money, it creates a healthier environment for the community.

YNHH's progressive waste management initiatives have yielded positive results. Last year alone, the York Street Campus achieved:

  • Two percent reduction (85,203 pounds) in medical waste volume by properly separating waste
  • 95 percent of major construction and demolition debris recycled
  • 26 percent of paper, glass, plastic, cans, and cardboard recycled
  • 302,400 pounds of food waste diverted by utilizing the bio-digester
  • 28,674 pounds of waste diverted from landfills due to medical device reprocessing

Overall, YNHH saved approximately $2.1 million in 2012 and prevented more than 3,700 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere. DeVito pointed out that the Saint Raphael Campus is also actively adopting the hospital's sustainability programs and next year, YNHH results will reflect both campuses.

YNHH's efforts have included more than successful waste management initiatives. The hospital has also implemented a bio-based green cleaning program using products that remove soil without harming the environment; introduced a "Greening the OR" reprocessing program; rolled out a comprehensive sustainable food program; and standardized processes for printing documents to reduce expenses and save paper.

Because of these accomplishments, Becker's Hospital Review named YNHH one of the 50 Greenest Hospitals in America. Other awards included the Leadership Award for Sustainability Excellence from VHA; Making Medicine Mercury Free Award from Practice Greenhealth; recognition for transportation demand management programs that encourage alternative forms of transportation; and most recently, the prestigious Partner for Change award that recognizes healthcare facilities for established and innovative environmental programs.

"We've made substantial progress in our sustainability efforts but we have the opportunity to do much more," added DeVito. Employees should stay tuned for information on new recycling, waste reduction and reprocessing opportunities throughout the hospital in the coming months.