Nurses on ‘cleanup mission’?

While the environmental pressure group Health Care Without Harm is supporting a group of US nurses to improve source segregation to minimise ‘red bag’ or clinical waste volumes, some tough questions come to mind.

Above all others must be the question of waste destination and the relative environmental impact? Put an item of waste in one bag and the naysayers are up in arms about damage to the environment. But what is the alternative? Put the waste into another bag, a different waste stream with a different destination – possibly landfill – as if that somehow makes it better. No it doesn’t, unless of course you are sponsored to believe that it does by an organisation solidly anti-incineration. The real goal is to avoid waste, not shuffle it into a different coloured sack!

Just getting the basics right, without worrying too much about the final destination of wastes, is an essential first step and it is there that nurses need to act. I sat in an outpatient clinic yesterday, and watched a somewhat underemployed clinic nurse trying hard to pass the time.  At one point, she went into a clinic room and with the door wide open I was able to watch. She washed her hands – very badly, and if I was her supervisor I’d be having a word – and dried them with a huge handful of paper towels. They went into the orange clinical waste sack that was beside the hand basin.

She then peeled an orange, throwing the peel into the same orange sack. At that stage I was incandescent since twice she held the lid of the sack holder open with her hand instead of using the foot pedal. Having placed herself at further risk though this foolish maneuver, and finished her fruity snack, she once again washed her hands this time with a slightly better but still inadequate technique. And yes, another big bundle of paper towels into the orange sack.

And they worry about incinerators!

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