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Steps to tame hospital waste

NCR Staff

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” is as much a mantra as a motto for Dominican Sr. Mary Ellen Leciejewski at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, Calif., where they do just that.

Leciejewski coordinates environmental programs for 35 of them in the Catholic Healthcare West group. Each hospital has an environmental action committee of housekeeping and engineering, doctors and nurses, human resources and infection control personnel measuring, in Leciejewski’s words, “how, in terms of solid waste, medical waste, water, electricity, energy, etc., we can reduce the size of our ‘ecological footprint.’ “

Issues: the amount of medical waste per patient has more than doubled since 1955; the Center for Disease Control reports that 2 percent or less of a typical hospital’s waste must be incinerated to protect public health, but hospitals routinely burn 75 to 100 percent; dioxin is the major toxic produced when hospital trash -- 18 to 33 percent of it plastic -- is burned.

In CHW hospitals, there’s a trend toward nondisposables, such as reusable surgical drapes, said Leciejewski. All the hospitals subscribe to the CERES principles -- a 10-point environmental code many U.S. corporations signed on to after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska.

And they’re working with the Health Care Without Harm program of the Campaign for Environmentally Responsible Health Care whose nine steps include: “Don’t incinerate what you can recycle or reuse”; setting goals to eliminate the use of mercury-containing products by 2003; and phasing out the use of polyvinyl chloride products.

National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 1999