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Starting a laboratory recycling program.

The author's hospital makes money--and saves 34 trees a month--recycling paper. Here are five steps to help you start a similar program.

A WORLD RECORD of dubious distinction is held by Americans--each of us generates 3.5 pounds of garbage every day. I suspect laboratorians beat that mark, considering both the vast quantity of paper consumed by our reports and our affection for single-use, throwaway items.

* Viable option. Solid waste disposal is a problem all managers face. Receptive landfills are disappearing as fast as the cost of waste hauling skyrockets, especially in metropolitan areas. Recycling has become more than a noble environmental cause; it is now a viable financial option.

At our midsize proprietary hospital in Florida, we found it surprisingly easy to start a facility-wide recycling program. Begun in the spring of 1991, our program has advanced our bottom line while benefiting the environment. We consider our program an unqualified success.

The acronym WASTE summarizes the five steps we used to implement the plan:

W: Working committee. For this all-important group we sought motivated individuals who represented diverse areas of responsibility within the institution. It's crucial to include at least one representative from housekeeping and one from administration, the two departments most directly involved in hospital-wide recycling. Also represented on our committee are the laboratory, nursing, dietary, respiratory therapy, and security departments.

Winning the support of administration early increases the chances that such a program will succeed. We were particularly fortunate that an administrative trainee who attended our first committee meeting was scouting for a project to tackle. He vigorously seized upon the recycling idea and was promptly assigned to chair the working committee.

A: Accounting. We called local recycling firms to ask what kinds of waste they buy. We then made a note of the requirements for bundling, sorting, and pickup. The companies we called made many worthwhile suggestions for streamlining our logistics. Local government offices provided more timesaving tips. Our county department of solid waste management gave us the names and specialties of waste haulers and a list of local organizations that were engaged in recycling activities. One of the latter provided us with useful advice.

We selected a paper recycling firm that pays $35 per ton. Since our hospital generates about two tons of recyclable paper each month, the paper brings in nearly $1,000 per year while reducing the cost of garbage pickup. We donate our modest monthly profit to local ecology-oriented organizations.

In addition, the lab saves about $200 per month, or $2,400 per year, by virtually eliminating paper garbage. The revenue and savings have more than offset our only startup expense: the 15 plastic bins we bought at a home center for approximately $13 apiece.

S: Simple. It's wise to begin a recycling program modestly, such as with paper only. Later, when the program is running smoothly, the list of recyclables can be expanded.

Another method is to recycle commingled materials, beginning in the department or section most likely to be successful. At Palms of Pasadena, we limited the hospital-wide plan to high-quality paper: computer, typewriter, and ledger paper as well as envelopes. Those items, which comprised over half of our solid waste volume, brought in the highest premium from the waste hauler.

T: Training. The next step after deciding what to recycle and where to begin is to organize training sessions. Informational meetings should be held at convenient times and must include all shifts. The promise of coffee and doughnuts tends to assure a good turnout. An informal 15-minute session, with questions taken afterward, is long enough to review the need for recycling and the logistics of the plan.

To kick off the program, we placed small trays throughout the workplace. To each tray we glued a list of the kinds of paper our recycler was willing to buy (Figure 1). One person in each department is responsible for emptying the trays into large collecting bins at the end of the day. Members of the housekeeping department empty the bins and bundle up the paper in time for the weekly collection by the recycling firm.

E: Encouragement. It makes sense to herald a new recycling effort with plenty of publicity. Trumpeting initial success then boosts pride and participation. We published a story about our program in the hospital newsletter and illustrated it with a photograph of our committee members. Health care professionals always like to read about efforts to hold down the costs of health care.

To mark the first day of the program, hospital administration demonstrated its enthusiasm by giving personalized coffee mugs to all 1,500 employees. The mugs, which serve as daily reminders to recycle, made disposable plastic coffee cups extinct among our staff, thus contributing to waste reduction.

For the first few weeks, the chairperson of the committee made daily rounds to observe progress and offer encouragement. A hotline number tied to a phone on his desk encouraged staff members to ask questions. A common one was, "This paper has writing on it. Can it still be recycled?" (The answer is yes.)

When the program had been in place for a full month, our hospital newsletter ran an update and congratulated everyone on having saved 34 trees--the equivalent of about two tons of waste paper.

Once a recycling program is up and running, innovations occur almost automatically. After our program had been in place for six months, for example, we began to recycle aluminum cans. Whenever feasible, we purchase supplies made from recycled materials. Next year we may add plastic containers and corrugated boxes to the list.

Even if the recycling program weren't fully paying for itself, the overwhelming support it has received at our hospital and the ecological benefits it continues to realize would justify its existence.

Figure 2 provides formulas for estimating the amount of recoverable paper generated by a facility. If your lab has not yet joined this environmentally sensitive age, today would be an excellent time to start.

Figure 1

Acceptable items for a paper recycling program

Recycle these (staples and paper clips need not be removed):

Computer paper (green bar type) Computer printout paper White ledger (letterhead, photocopy, typing paper) Colored ledger Envelopes, white or tinted (without plastic windows) Assorted forms Tab, recipe, and flash cards Adding machine tapes Junk mail (not on shiny paper)

Do not recycle these:

Carbon paper Newspapers, phone books Cardboard or fiberboard Kraft paper (brown envelopes, paper bags, wrappers) Shiny or glossy coated paper (magazines, advertisements) Adhesive labels, sticky notes Manila envelopes and folders Tissues, paper towels Food wrappers, lunch bags, food Paper cups, plates, cans Tobacco packaging, cigarettes Plastics, cellophane Metal binders, rubber bands Film, photos, transparent tape, glue Fax paper ECG and EEG rhythm strips (thermal paper type)

Figure 2

How to estimate recycling potential

Recyclable paper generation:

Number of employees x 0.51 pounds (average pounds of recyclable paper per employee per day) = pounds of recyclable paper per day

Pounds of recyclable paper per day x 240 (number of workdays per year/12 (months)/2,000 (pounds) = tons of recyclable paper per month

Potential paper recovery rate:

Tons per month of recyclable paper x 65% (conservative estimate of employee participation rate) = tons per month of recyclable paper recovered

Source: "Your Office Paper Recycling Guide," San Francisco Recycling Program, 271 City Hall, San Francisco, CA 94102.

The author is a pathologist at Palms of Pasadena Hospital, St. Petersburg, Fla.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
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Author:Barton, Thomas K.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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