By Joan Banovic
Judge's notes: This team made a change for the greater good. The initiative benefits not just the hospital but their community and beyond. They used a scientific, research-based approach and gained support from multidiscipline teams, management and administration.
It started with a single question: "Why can't I recycle this?" In the main operating room, we perform approximately 1,500 cases per month, all requiring sterile instrumentation, sterile water, sterile saline, packaged sterile supplies and implants. All of our supplies are packaged in disposable recyclable material. Operating rooms across the country contribute the largest amount of municipal trash in a hospital, secondary only to food services. If we were able to recycle half of what we used, we could make a major impact not only to our landfills and community, but potentially our small part of the world.
Jennifer Pallotta, BSN, RN, CNOR, inpatient operating room, masterminded the project. She empowered all who chose to become involved. Together, Jennifer and I spearheaded this massive undertaking. We gathered nurses, technicians, anesthesiologists and the Environmental Services Department staff to help assist with our endeavor. Together, we would all make a difference.
Our first step was educating ourselves in the art of recycling. We did it at home; how difficult could it be? We spoke with our managers and gained support and buy-in, for without them this huge practice change would have never been achievable. We joined our hospital-based "Green Team" and educated ourselves on what would be required. We then began to educate the staff, slowly introducing the concept of recycling product from the operating room. Surgery and anesthesia chairmen were informed of our initiative via emails and introductions at committee meetings. It was imperative that we had the surgery and anesthesia staff as involved as the perioperative personnel. An area of concern would be the Environmental Services Department, for without them our study could be in jeopardy. We were amazed at the enthusiasm that they displayed when we began our educational process with them. We informed them that without their support, our study would surely fail. It was a priority for Jennifer and me to ensure that they were comfortable with the process, and truly understood what a driving force their support would be. By empowering the Environmental Service Department, we gained allies that would last much longer than our study.
We initiated a pilot program. Phase I we monitored and measured five operating rooms: ENT/gynecological, laparoscopic, orthopedic, robotic and neurosurgical procedures. We would do this for a period of one month, three times a week. We would base our results on the amount of trash (weight) that we produced, separating only red bag waste from regular trash.
Coincidentally, the end of Phase I coincided with our institution's signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Environmental Protection Agency. Not only did we have buy-in and support from our managers, but we also received support from our president and chief executive officer, as well as our executive vice president and chief nursing and patient care officer.
Once the one-month period was complete and we had our baseline statistics, the real fun began. We would need to educate staff on recycling of operating room supplies: What could be recycled as opposed to what could not be. What material was acceptable, and what we needed to watch out for. We began an educational program that consisted of in-services, posters, banners and giveaways. Jennifer and I made ourselves available at all times for questions and answers for whoever had concerns.
Phase II of our project began with the same five operating rooms, but the difference is that a recycling trash receptacle was now added. We learned from Phase I of our study that the majority of supplies placed into the red hazardous waste bag did not need to be there. A serendipitous moment came when we were able to remove the red bag receptacle from the operating rooms, and only have it available upon need. We were able to reduce our red bag waste by 50% percent; not only eliminating the financial cost of the bags, but also dramatically decreasing the cost of disposal.
During Phase II of our study we continued positive reinforcement, taking pictures of staff recycling to encourage the team. The staff members enjoyed seeing their photos displayed on the bulletin boards - all caught in the act of recycling. The staff began to take pride and ownership in the project, and began to realize that they were making a difference in something that they had full control over. Acts of positive peer pressure began to emerge. Recycling even caught on with our surgeons being more vigilant on where they disposed of their gowns and gloves; not wanting to contaminate the recyclable items.
The end of Phase II was celebrated amongst the staff. We held a party during our monthly staff in-service decorating the room, serving coffee and breakfast to the staff. We celebrated the fact that we as a team were able to increase our recycling by 34%, hence decreasing 34% of municipal waste that is dumped into our landfills. We cut our hazardous red bag waste by 50%, eliminating the cost of supplies of red bags as well as disposal fees. Our celebration ended with each registered nurse entering the operating suite with a 64-gallon blue recycling bin for each of the 22 operating rooms in the main operating arena.
This greening initiative was very exciting. The recycling bug caught on. In an age where hospitals need to remain conscious of the earth and be aware of the potential hazards that we can add to the environment, the act of giving back and being green is something that we all can do. By recycling in the operating room, we showed the rest of the medical center that it was certainly possible for them to participate and play a part in this new culture.
This was truly the start of a new era all arising from one simple question, "Why can't I recycle this?"