Closing the Loop: UVM Medical Center First In U.S. To Buy Products Made From Recycled Blue Wrap
Before joint surgery, an operating room is busy. Technical employees, nurses and an orthopedic surgeon prepare themselves and the room for the patient’s arrival – confirming information, organizing dozens of implements of different shapes and sizes, and ensuring the room is sterile.
During this flurry of activity, bins in the center of the room begin to fill with a blue fabric-like material. Gloved hands unwind the material from sterile trays and cases of equipment. They hold the sheet of blue up to the light, inspect for any holes or imperfections – and then toss it in the bin, pressing down to make room for more.
This material, made of No. 5 polypropylene plastic, is ubiquitous at hospitals. It encases instruments and trays that have undergone sterilization before an operating room procedure, protecting them from bacteria until they are needed. Depending on the procedure, piles of it can accumulate while a team prepares an operating room, unwrapping the many instruments that might be needed during a single surgery. About 30 million pounds of this material are discarded annually across the United States.
Since 2011, the University of Vermont Medical Center has recycled its operating room blue wrap – keeping about 7 tons of material out of landfills and incinerators every year – and now has begun buying products made from the recycled material. “We’ve closed the loop,” says Monique Citro, an operating room communications specialist who spearheaded the original grassroots campaign to recycle the blue wrap, enlisting her coworkers to collect and sort the material by hand in between surgeries. “This is the power of starting a project and following it through.”
Early this spring, patients at the UVM Medical Center became the first in the nation to use new bed pans and wash basins made from recycled blue wrap, the material that keeps operating room instruments sterile.
The new bed pans and basins, under the BlueCON brand name, are molded from a plastic resin derived entirely from melted-down blue wrap. The patient care items contain blue wrap that has been collected by the hospital and others in the Northeast.
The BlueCON products illustrate the UVM Medical Center’s broader efforts to move toward a more sustainable supply chain. Soon, the hospital plans to shift to biodegradable plastic bags for patients to hold their belongings.
UVM Medical Center recycles about 7 tons of blue wrap in a year with Casella Waste Systems. Halyard Health, a major U.S. manufacturer of blue wrap, launched its Blue Renew Recycling Program in 2010 to help health care facilities find ways to divert their used blue wrap from landfills and repurpose it.
Daniel Constant, a consultant for Halyard and president of plastics recycling specialist Sustainable Solutions, is spearheading the Blue Renew initiative by purchasing recycled blue wrap from waste collectors including Casella. Those collectors used to ship recycled material to China, which recently reduced its acceptance of overseas waste.
Sustainable Solutions melts down the blue wrap and converts it to BlueCON Resin pellets that it sells to Care Line, a Tennessee-based manufacturer of inpatient products, which molds the resin into bed pans and wash basins. In late 2017, Care Line sent the first finished BlueCON items to about 50 hospitals for trials.
UVM Medical Center was the first to place a BlueCON order, Constant says. The order went through Greenhealth Exchange, a group purchasing consortium for health systems that looks for products that reduce waste, energy use and water use and protect the health of communities and the environment. The UVM Health Network, an integrated system that includes the medical center, five hospitals in Vermont and Northern New York, and a home health agency, is one of Greenhealth Exchange’s nine founding members.
“This is an unusual category, because we’re taking hospital waste and creating another use out of it,” says Nancy Anderson, vice president of contracting for Greenhealth Exchange.
The BlueCON bed pans and basins are hard to miss – the items UVM Medical Center had been using were gray, made from nonrecycled material. But these are bright blue. Before they could be used, the Nursing and Practice Experience Council and Value Analysis Committee had to sign off on the new products, after ensuring that they worked effectively and comfortably for patients. The hospital uses about 38,000 wash basins and 7,500 bed pans every year.
There’s no benefit to an environmentally preferable bed pan if it cracks during use or cuts into a patient’s skin, or if the handle collapses once it’s full, explains Kathleen Trieb, RN, Shared Services Supply Chain Senior Project Manager at the UVM Medical Center. The BlueCON products passed muster.
“We put a lot of effort into recycling, and it’s nice to have a product on our shelves that uses that hard work,” Trieb says. “It’s good for patients. It’s good for our staff. It’s good for the environment.”
Click here to learn more about the University of Vermont Medical Center’s commitment to sustainability.
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