Small steps add up to major waste reductions

No conservation project too insignificant

Environmental consciousness is such a big part of the corporate culture at Boulder (CO) Community Foothills Hospital that the surgery program staff constantly comes up with new ideas to help the department reduce waste, recycle, and conserve resources.

The surgery department's following "Green List" demonstrates how each area of a surgery program can promote environmentally friendly practices in the workplace:

• Operating Rooms:

— Place paper and recycle bins in OR (for packaging such as plastic irrigation bottles, hard-shell containers from sponges, bovie, etc.) and work areas. Place commingled containers (glass, aluminum, paperboard, and tin) and newspaper recycle bins in lounge areas.

— Reuse hard plastics (tray liners, medicine cups, sponge containers, and bowls) in local school arts program.

— Resterilize (via third party) opened, unused, expired disposables, and compression sleeves.

— Donate unused soft goods (gowns, gloves, drapes, ambu-bags, facemasks, etc.) and supplies (catheters, bovies, etc.) to support international health care missions.

— Use reusable pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, trochar sleeves, and light handles.

— Reduce use of sterilant and indicators by running quality improvement indicators with actual loads of instruments.

— Install motion sensors on scrub sinks.

— Reduce number of towels used during surgical procedures by not lining back table with sterile towels.

— Use full-spectrum (Reveal, General Electric) light bulbs. They use less energy and have longer life and less eye stress.

— Use unused paper towels as armboard covers.


Reuse disposable flex tape pulse oximeters.

— Conserve linen by transferring with patient from pre-op to OR, from OR to PACU, and from PACU to recliner.

— Cut down obsolete orders and charge sheets into note pads.

— Return styrofoam coolers to medication vendors for reuse.

• Sterile Processing:

— Run power washers on "power-saving" cycles, which reduce by one-third the electricity and water used.

— Install automatic detergent delivery devices in decontamination rooms, ensuring accurate delivery of detergent and water.

— In building the instrument inventory, place instrument inventory in Sterrad-compatible hard-shell containers, which eliminates to the fullest extent possible the utilization of blue wrap.

— Run autoclave and washer-decontaminator only with a full load.

— Use bio-steam pack cards and gown turn tabs for scratch paper/notes.

— Reduce number of towels from eight to six in towel packs.

— Sterilize light handles, towels in basin sets.

• Materials:

— Participate in housewide battery recycling program.

— Implement rechargeable battery system for pagers and label makers.

— Products committee considers packaging and post-consumer recycled material when evaluating new products (paper, drinking cups, and toner cartridges).

• General.

— Reuse backside of printed paper in SPD, scheduling, and OR control desk before placing into recycle bin.

— Participate in housewide cardboard recycling program. Cardboard recycle bin is located in area of trash/linen chutes.

— Use dishwasher in OR lounge for reusable dishware and silverware in lieu of disposable plates, cups, and utensils.

— Staff members self-launder scrubs.

— Reusable sharps containers placed by vendor in patient care areas.

— Motion sensors put at all sinks to conserve water.

— Motion-activated towel dispensers reduce paper towel use and waste.

— Motion-activated lighting installed in bathrooms.

— Alternative transportation used by staff (bus and bicycle).


  • Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E), This web site contains tools, resources, and information about waste reduction in health care. Information includes definitions of regulated medical waste and hazardous waste, and links to state regulations. A waste assessment tool can be found by going to the main page, selecting "waste reduction" from the top navigational bar, and scrolling down to "getting started." A link to the assessment tool is imbedded in the introductory paragraph.
  • Healthcare without Harm, Web site contains information on waste reduction, environmentally preferable purchasing, and design of a healthy building.
  • CleanMed, This web site lists conferences that focus upon waste reduction, environmentally preferable purchasing, and recycling. Free downloads of presentations and information from previous conferences are available on the web site.