Dear EarthTalk: the hospital I work at doesn't recycle at all, not even plastic bottles and cans or food service trays. I was wondering how to get the facility to start up some kind of recycling system?
If convincing your employer to look into recycling in the first place is a stumbling block, there are many resources available to help turn that tide. The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), a state agency dedicated to helping Ocean State businesses manage solid waste in environmentally sound ways, publishes "In the Workplace," a print and online pamphlet that outlines the steps for setting up a workplace recycling and reduction program. According to RIRRC, wannabe workplace recyclers need to start by securing organizational support and commitment and educating fellow employees about the importance of recycling. The pamphlet also includes useful tips about reducing waste altogether.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's "Recycling Works" program offers a similar set of guidelines specifically for recycling at hospitals and health care institutions. Additionally, New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation publishes a free guide showing health care facilities how to evaluate their performance in preventing waste and pollution and identify opportunities for recycling and for cutting back resource use.
Another good resource for information on hospital recycling is the website of the nonprofit Waste Reduction Resource Center, which offers case studies detailing how several small and large health care facilities coast-to-coast have launched successful and money-saving recycling and waste reduction programs. Examples include a Vermont hospital with no budget for recycling that set up a self-sustaining, money-saving system for organics collection and composting, and a Pennsylvania hospital that now saves $150,000 a year due to the implementation of its recycling program.
Those looking to reduce waste in hospitals should be sure to consult the "Plan-Do-Check-Act" section of the Sustainable Hospitals website. The summary provides useful tools for getting management approvals and enlisting the support of employees in both recycling and lowering disposable product consumption. It also has a section on how to reduce energy usage.
Implementing recycling and waste reduction programs at hospitals makes sense not only for local ecology and for institutional bottom line, but also for the examples that can be set for the millions of patients and workers that pass through the health care system every day.
CONTACTS: Waste Reduction Resource Center, http://wrrc.p2pays.org; RIRRC "In the Workplace," www.rirrc.org/documents/10221%20Workplace%20Brochure3.pdf; "Recycling Works," www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/airwaste/wm/RECYCLE/Recywrks/recywrks1.htm; Sustainable Hospitals, www.sustainablehospitals.org/HTMLSrc/PlanDoCheckAct.html.
GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.
--Adrianna Schultz, via e-mail