Reducing Waste in the Workplace

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Sandra Sandra
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Reducing Waste in the Workplace

I was wondering if anyone else has tried to extend their waste reduction beyond the home and into the workplace.

I am a physician and work in a hospital or clinic setting. Reading this blog, I have opened my eyes to the enormous amount of waste I produce each day in order to practice medicine. Single-use gowns, disposable plastic otoscope covers, and latex exam gloves are some examples of items I normally use by the dozens each day. Surgeries are an even larger source of waste, where entire pieces of equipment (e.g. trocars, laparoscopic arms, staplers) are designed for single use and disposed of by incineration.

My highest priority is always to ensure the safety and well-being of my patients. Complicating any desire I have to reduce waste is the fact that many of these disposable items were designed for single use as a way to prevent the spread of infection and to protect both patient and practitioner. However, like many single use items, it seems a lot of thought was put into the manufacture and packaging of the product with little or no consideration of its disposal and environmental impact.

A broader issue I have encountered, and one that is applicable to those who work in a non-medical environment, is knowing how to navigate waste reduction in a setting that is not my own. I make sure to read through the rules and regulations that govern hospital operations before I attempt anything changes, and contact the health and safety officer when in doubt. It can be difficult to try something different when your job depends on the coordination of a team that is used to the standards set in place.

There is a great article in the NY Times that discusses medical waste reduction in more depth.
“In a World of Throwaways, Making a Dent in Medical Waste,” 7/5/10: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/06/health/06waste.html. I have notified my hospital’s HR department about Project Greenhealth, the organization mentioned in the article, that works with health care organizations to reduce their environmental footprint. The efficiency and economical  benefits of reducing waste will hopefully provide the incentive for the medical community to look more closely at this option.

Has anyone else encountered this dilemma in the work place? For those who work do not work in a medical setting, have you run into any difficulties trying to enact your own attempts at reducing office waste?
Scott Scott
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Re: Reducing Waste in the Workplace

Sandra,

Great topic.  Glad that you were inspired to think about how to apply "zero waste" concepts outside the home to the workplace.

It is clear that corporations / healthcare institutions / etc. need to rethink their business processes. Today there was even an article about how Walmart was approaching "Zero Waste" (http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2011/03/21/behind-scenes-look-walmarts-zero-waste-program). And it is great to see that innovative organizations (like Project Green Health) are providing support...I recall even hearing about "dumpster dives" that Burts Bees used to conduct with their employees to create more visibility around waste - and in to engage their employees in solutions. (I think it is on YouTube)

But I believe that employees / medical practitioners need to drive the process - and think about what zero waste means to them and their day-to-day business activities. Many larger organizations will have "sustainability" or Corporate Social Responsibility groups that are looking to engage people from within their companies - so you can start by bring your ideas to these people that are specifically tasked with surfacing new approaches.  But if no group exists, I have seen several cases where a single employee can raise the awareness of this topic - maybe from a cost-savings or risk mitigation standpoint.

I too would like to hear more about how people have overcome barriers in the workplace in moving towards zero waste...
Sandra Sandra
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Re: Reducing Waste in the Workplace

Thanks, Scott. You, Bea and your family have provided a great resource with this blog. I'm sure many others will (and have already begun to) consider reducing waste in other areas of their life after seeing how easily it can be done at home.

I agree that employees are a key driving force towards any change in business practices. A good starting point for me will be to engage fellow employees in this discussion while investigating ways to present the benefits of zero waste from the company's point-of-view.

I need to make a correction to my earlier post: the organization's name is Practice Greenhealth
( www.practicegreenhealth.org ), not Project Greenhealth as I wrote in the previous post.
Gary Gary
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Re: Reducing Waste in the Workplace

I know that this is a while back but the University of Kansas Medical Center has a great recycling program.

http://www3.kumc.edu/recycling/Index.HTM

Also, the hospital I used to work at would have workers come around and collect the single stream recycling 1-7 except #6 (polystryene/styrofoam) and plastic bags Monday through Friday.  Part of what was collected was batteries, CD's, plastic utensils, and ziploc bags.  Our unit headed by me ;) would go through the patient's room and collect their recyclables as their was a couple of cans designated for recycling placed strategically in the patient's rooms that we suspected would yield higher recycling content.  The patient's families were for it and you could tell which ones did and did not practice recycling at home.  Also, roughly half of the staff members did poorly with recycling on their own end because they did not do so at home.  I think some staff training and maybe even put on an event like Burt Bees dumpster recovery to educate staff.
Sandra Sandra
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Re: Reducing Waste in the Workplace

Great to hear about KUMC's recycling program and your efforts to increase your unit's recycling efforts. I'd love to see a program like this at my workplace.
zoebird zoebird
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Re: Reducing Waste in the Workplace

We are not a medical office, so it's not so severe of a situation.

First, I make sure that we are cleaning with eco-firendly products that we then refill. we are using plastic bottles (original packaging) so that people see what they are using.

Second, we reuse paper that comes in. We've cancelled anything that constitutes "junk mail" and had things done via email.

Third, we purchase our printer ink through a company that does 100% recycling of ink cartridges. We don't use a lot of ink (we don't print unless we have to), but we are using eco-friendly ink in cartridges that are refilled, sent in minimal packaging, and all packaging (including the box it's sent in and that we use to return cartridges) is recycled by the company.

Fourth, we have all kinds of recycling set up and encourage our people to bring their lunches in re-usable containers or, if they are going to buy lunches -- then like us, take their own containers. We've found several small restaurants (sushi places, thai, indian, chinese, and malay take-away places) *love* that we bring our own containers to them. We are using "old tupperware" given to us by a friend, but I'd like to switch this to glass ware when we can.

We are slowly phasing plastics out of our lives.

We provide a french press for coffee, loose tea and tea infusing balls for tea, and of course mugs and hot water.

I'd like to provide compost -- perhaps a small jar that I can bring home to our bin when we get our bin going.

This should reduce most of the waste in our offices.

When we first purchased the business, there was one HUGE trash bag of trash every day. We noted that most of this was paper -- things were bring printed out, then thrown away (rather than reused for scratch paper and then recycled). Things that were printed didn't need to be, so we started "charging for printing" and it stopped pretty quick. LOL

Then, we salvaged paper into scrap piles for people to reuse.

We then started recycling for paper and plastic containers and junk from people's lunches.

We bought some silverware for everyone in the office to use (and thus able to refuse the plastics from take-aways), and also provided plates, bowls, and mugs. Now that most people are bringing their lunches, we have far less waste of this kind!

We got rid of our large "rubbish bin" and replaced it with two small ones in the kitchen -- one for 'trash' (next to recycling), and one for "compostables." The cleaning crew just asked me last week where all of our trash had gone to, since it seems that the whole office is producing far less.

We are pretty much recycling everything that we can! Which I find really exciting.
Sandra Sandra
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Re: Reducing Waste in the Workplace

Wow, sounds like you've made great progress at your office. Paper waste is a huge problem for us, too. We're in the midst of switching over to an electronic record keeping system, and I'm hoping this will reduce a lot of our paper use.  
CrawDaddy CrawDaddy
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Re: Reducing Waste in the Workplace

In reply to this post by zoebird
Thanks for your responses!  We have been making bread without a machine.
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