Saskatoon green initiative fades

Green initiatives in hospital practice can make valuable contributions, to the environment and to environmental protection, and to cost containment. But it can also increase costs and we, as a community, must decide to what extent we value the environment and how much we can afford to pay to keep up the good work.

Nonetheless, hospitals in North America and in Germany, Scandinavia and some parts of Holland/Belgium are ‘doing their bit’ with generally nurse-led green initiatives. There is even a hint of this in the UK, where several groups have tried to make their mark, though generally unsuccessfully.

00000e1Without care, it can all go disastrously wrong. Despite many good words and well-intentioned deeds, these generally small and localised initiatives have little real impact and may be cancelled out when swallowed up in the environmental impact of alternate manufacturing and disposal, and the cost of supply and disposal.

Recycling fractions of healthcare waste is a great idea. We accept tis for our domestic waste, though the true value of this is debatable. Though great success has been achieved in managing manufacturing and construction wastes, the vast diversity of healthcare wastes, much of which is ripe for reduction, reuse or recycling, is largely overlooked.

Perhaps that is overlooked less in reality that in our perceptions, since incineration might recover some heat and autoclave floc can be used as an RDF, while sanitary/offensive wastes can be used for biogas production, much plastics and PVC can be captured for recycling, and the mountains of paper that are generated can of course be recycled if anyone is minded to do so.

But Saskatoon hospitals’ recycling is now on pause.

With refuse from its three hospitals barred from the city landfill since summer, the hospitals have also forgone plastic and glass recycling for the month of September after a disagreement with a disposal company.

“People get concerned when they see latex gloves because they come from a hospital, and they don’t know where they’ve come from,” Brian Berzolla, regional manager of ancillary services, said Thursday.

In early September, Loraas disposal told the health region several items were showing up in loads of plastic that were either suspected biohazards or not recyclable. Latex gloves that were used by housekeepers and other staff who never touch patients were ending up in recycle bins, which alarmed the company, Berzolla said.

“They see these things, and they go, ‘Oh. It’s a causing us a problem. What do we do with it? Stop sending it,’ ” Berzolla said.

Reduction is waste output is an option that is far more easily said than done. Recycling is fine, but it can all go badly wrong, as in Saskatoon, where good intention and sloppy practice have conspired now to undo all of that hard work. The environmental impact of rejected wastes is possibly far greater than having done nothing in the first place.

Too often, enthusiasts begin some greening initiative in the healthcare environment, often supported by  publicity events, conference presentations, and even a hyped-up journal paper that claims massive annual improvement scaled up, quite ludicrously, from observations made over a couple of days or a week or so. Those results are thus entirely unreliable, and without sustained input are likely to be reversed as soon as the bandwagon falls of the rails. Sustained improvement necessitates sustained input, to encourage and support, to chide and enthuse, and to ensure that any initiative is properly funded. Regrettably, that rarely happens.



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