Doernbecher Nurses Lauded for Waste Prevention Efforts

07/10/03    Portland, Ore.

Pediatric intensive care nurses earn kudos for successful recycling campaign

The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in Oregon Health & Science University Doernbecher Children's Hospital has been awarded a BRAG (Business Recycling Awards Group) "Take the Next Step Award" for its outstanding waste prevention and recycling program.

Doernbecher's PICU is one of a few businesses in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington to be recognized by METRO and local governments for recycling, reducing waste and buying recycled products. In fact, only 400 out of 40,000 METRO region businesses have been recognized through the BRAG program.

"Our unit is working hard to conserve natural resources and prevent potential pollutants from entering the environment," said Mary Pate, PICU clinical nurse specialist and co-team leader. "Health care providers cannot be responsible for contributing to the causes of the disease and illness they endeavor to heal."

Doernbecher PICU nurses were first inspired to launch their "greening" efforts last fall when a sales representative gave them a choice between disposable or reusable oximetery probes. That discussion sparked an interest in finding more ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. The nurses, who dubbed themselves the "PICU Green Team," met with OHSU's recycling program and its Environmental Health and Radiation Safety department. Together they audited the unit, identified means of reducing hospital waste and drew up an action plan.

The team's first action was to hold monthly mini-presentations for PICU staff -- the first presentation stressed keeping everyday, potentially recyclable, trash out of the unit's regulated medical waste bags. Next they modified the unit kitchen, installing recycling bins and shelves, and a rack for the staff's reusable coffee mugs. They started recycling the plastic wrap that encases the unit's linen each month, making two-sided photocopies and placing X-ray recycling bins next to viewing boxes -- the silver in X-rays can be reclaimed and used again.

In April the team hosted a mercury-containing fever thermometer exchange for OHSU employees, volunteers and students. Approximately 100 thermometers were exchanged for free, environmentally safe digital thermometers, and the exchanged thermometers were disposed of responsibly. The PICU Green Team now is working with other OHSU units to implement similar recycling practices.

OHSU and other area hospitals, meet monthly to discuss the environmental impacts of health care in conjunction with the Oregon Center for Environmental Health, which is affiliated with Healthcare Without Harm and Hospitals for a Healthy Environment. In 2002 OHSU recycled 368 tons of paper, 240 tons of cardboard, 42 tons of yard debris, 24 tons of plastic, 22 tons of wood, 18 tons of glass, 13 tons of metal, 9 tons of tin, 2 tons of plastic bags and nearly half a ton of newsprint.

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