Partnership with Gundersen Linen and Medical Supply Manufacturer Close the Loop on Plastics Recycling
ThedaCare was awarded a VHA Sustainability Excellence Award in Las Vegas later this month for its efforts to recycle single-use plastics used in the health care network’s operating rooms, such as blue wrap, plastic containers, and plastic wrappers. Paper and cardboard is also recycled at all facilities.
VHA Inc. is a national network of not-for-profit hospitals and the nation’s leading academic medical centers working together to improve performance and efficiency in clinical, financial and operational management. The company serves more than 5,200 health system members and affiliates, and it represents more than $50 billion in annual purchasing volume.
According to Paul Linzmeyer, sustainability leader for ThedaCare, the OR pilot project was a partnership with the system’s linen company, Gunderson Linen, that picked up and sorted the recyclable plastics and prepared them for shipment to overseas buyers. “A surgical technician recruited nurses to test the program and met with surgeons to ensure their support. Then Gunderson picked up the recyclables at the same time they made their regular soiled linen pick-up and arranged with a recycler to sell it to the highest bidder.”
The initial program worked well through 2013, but hit obstacles in 2014 when the global market plummeted for recyclable waste. As a result, the ThedaCare sustainability team implemented significant improvements as they learned more about the nature of recycled waste and how to make it more valuable:
- Plastics were sorted by type because some kinds generate much higher prices than others.
- Plastics are bagged in the operating rooms and sent to Gunderson Linen for processing. The more effectively sorted and compacted plastics are then sent directly back to the original manufacturer for recycling back into new medical supplies.
- Gunderson Linen invested in more warehousing space to sort and accumulate recyclables into full truck loads that are now returned straight to the medical supply manufacturer, not sold on the unpredictable global recycling market.
- Internal communications efforts were ramped up to increase awareness and momentum for more plastics recycling at ThedaCare. Staff responded with a dramatic increase in recycling system wide.
- 84 Tons of waste was diverted from the landfill in 2014. Linzmeyer expects to double that result in 2015 through both an expansion of recycling to all ThedaCare departments and facilities and resource reduction strategies, including purchasing more reusable versus disposable products.
A statement put out by VHA said, “Ultimately, creating a healthy environment is a health care priority and VHA’s Sustainability Excellence Award winners are embracing the charge, raising the bar and setting an example for innovative and effective ways to make the business of health care also the business of creating sustainable futures.”
ThedaCare™ is a community health system consisting of seven hospitals: Appleton Medical Center, Theda Clark Medical Center, ThedaCare Medical Center-New London, Shawano Medical Center, Berlin Memorial Hospital, Wild Rose Community Memorial Hospital, and Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca. ThedaCare also includes ThedaCare Physicians, ThedaCare Behavioral Health, and ThedaCare At Home. ThedaCare is one of the largest employers in Northeast Wisconsin with more than 6,803 employees. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.