Over the past seven years, hospitals are becoming more eco-friendly, seeking to lighten their environmental footprints. The benefits are tremendous! Among them are safer patients, less wastefulness, and lower facility operating costs. Here’s how hospitals are improving the health of both people and our Earth.
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Upgrading Energy Efficiency
More facilities are phasing out fossil fuels, replacing them with renewable forms of energy, such as solar panel systems, wind turbines, and hydroelectric utility plants. By installing high-efficiency windows and HVAC systems, heating and cooling costs plunge.
Automatic solar shades harness the power of natural light, adding warmth in winter and cutting air-conditioning use during summer. In low-occupancy areas, hospitals are installing motion sensors to control lighting. Additionally, replacing fluorescent lighting with LED bulbs eliminates the hazards of mercury and other metals.
Less water goes to waste with low-flow fixtures, including faucets, showers, and toilets. Plus, the cost savings are substantial! In hospital kitchens, high-efficiency dishwashers also lower water consumption.
A new technology gaining popularity is the cogeneration utility plant. With such a system, hospitals can obtain two forms of energy from a single source. One cogeneration method is recycling exhaust heat to produce electricity.
Compared to single-source power plants, cogeneration facilities are 50 to 70 percent more efficient. From WNEP News, here’s a look at a cogeneration plant underway at a Wyoming hospital system, with projected cost savings of 40 percent.
Safer Biohazard Handling
Treating patients and saving lives yields medical waste, which must be disinfected. The traditional disposal method is incineration. However, this emits toxic fumes. Earth-friendly hospitals sterilize infectious waste with microwave units, hybrid steam, and autoclaves. After autoclaving, some facilities recycle the metals and plastics or use them as fuel, keeping them out of landfills.
By law, healthcare facilities must use red biohazard bags to segregate medical waste from garbage. Frequently, hospital staff members erroneously place non-contaminated items in red bags. This practice adds to the amount of infectious material that must be sterilized.
As a result, red bag misuse drains hospital funds while also building landfills. To remedy this problem, facilities are becoming more diligent in educating staff on how to properly segregate waste.
Reprocessing Medical Devices
To save single-use devices (SUDs) from cluttering landfills, hospitals are reprocessing them, such as by contracting with Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest healthcare systems in the US. First, Kaiser secures the SUDs from hospital surgery departments, labs, and patient rooms. Then, the company ships the items to vendors for cleaning, disinfecting, and repackaging. With a reprocessing program, medical instruments can safely be used multiple times!
Additionally, hospitals are more judicious in using their operating room packs, kits universally stocked with surgical supplies. Traditionally, packs were opened before patients arrived in surgical suites, with unused equipment discarded after procedures. Now, staff members customize the packs for different operations, assembling them precisely, with only needed supplies.
Reducing Chemical Exposure
Hospitals must be stringent when disinfecting surfaces. However, conventional cleaners have harmful chemicals, endangering both human and planetary health. In people, associated side effects include headaches, breathing difficulties, nausea, rashes, neurological damage, reproductive defects, and cancer.
Plus, caustic ingredients pollute the air while destroying our planet’s ozone layer. Without this atmospheric protection, we’re more vulnerable to the burning effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
To reduce toxic exposure, hospitals are becoming more eco-friendly by using “green certified” cleaning products, verified as safe for us and our environment. Such cleaners are tested by a third party, assuring the ingredients are nontoxic and biodegradable, yet effective at killing pathogens. Additionally, green manufacturers use ecological practices when formulating and packaging their cleaners.
Top certifying nonprofits are Green Seal, EcoLogo, and Safer Choice, with each agency placing their proprietary seal on approved cleaners. While all these organizations are trustworthy, Safer Choice is notable for implementation by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Conserving Food and Fuel
When hospitals acquire food from distant locations, the deliveries are made by enormous, gas-thirsty trucks. To save fuel, hospitals are partnering with regional food distributors, shortening the distances food must travel. In turn, vendors source their fruits and vegetables from local growers. Such produce is much fresher than imported food.
If the farmers practice sustainable cultivation, the ecological benefits multiply! Plus, quick transport helps preserve the nutrients in harvested food. Consequently, institutional meals are healthier and tastier, with less being discarded by patients and hospital staff.
Some facilities convert food waste into compost, using it as landscaping fertilizer. Other hospitals hire composting firms to collect their food residues, supplying local farmers with the compost. Another beneficial practice is offering vegan meal options for patients and hospital staff.
As hospitals are becoming more eco-friendly, less medical waste and SUDs go to landfills. Low-flow fixtures conserve water, and converting to renewable energy reduces pollution and the effects of global warming.
When facilities choose green-certified cleaning products, they avert exposure to toxic chemicals. By sourcing locally grown fruits and vegetables, patients and staff eat healthier. Additionally, since produce travels shorter distances, less fuel is used to transport and refrigerate food.
As a hospital employee, you can assist the greening of your facility. Your efforts will add meaning and purpose to the vital work you do. Lead the way to a healthier planet today!