CNEHJ has a Nurses’ Greening Hospital Team that is helping to educate and engage nurses about steps to take to reduce healthcare’s ecological footprint
Is There A Green Team At Your Hospital?
Practice Green Health has a guide with detailed information about how to start a green team at your hospital: A Guide for Creating Effective Green Teams in Health Care.
4 Ways to Reduce Hospital Waste
- Use hand dryers rather than paper towels in bathrooms
- Stock reusable – rather than disposable – items during admissions (water pitchers, bed pans)
- Use washable items in patient rooms (gowns, linens)
- Use washable or compostable cups, plates, and utensils in the cafeteria
When properly segregated, 85% or more of healthcare wastes are general waste with the same risk as solid waste. General solid waste is also the least expensive waste disposal stream, therefore, properly segregating waste can save hospitals money.
The 4 Most Common Hospital Waste Categories
General – similar to the types of waste that most homes create
Infectious – contaminated with blood or other body fluids or contains human body parts or tissues
Hazardous – containing properties that are potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment, such as toxic, flammable, or corrosive.
Radioactive – anything that comes into contact with trace amounts of certain chemical isotopes
It is the hospital’s responsibility to train staff on waste disposal and provide appropriate bins and containers.
“Sharps” are another category and these require special safe handling and disposal which most nurses are familiar with.
Create Healing Environments
About 60% of nurses work in hospitals where we do our best to create healing environments for our patients.
In the process, we also use lots of products, lots of energy, and produce lots of waste. Many nurses are working on reducing our ecological footprint as we continue to offer high quality care for our patients.
- Health care accounts for 10% of US greenhouse gasses
- More than 50% of hospitals’ greenhouse gas contributions come from energy use
- US hospitals produce more than 5 million tons of waste a year
- On average, 29 pounds of waste are produced per hospital bed in the US
- 7% of water use from all commercial and institutional settings combined is from hospitals
Greening Health Care Organizations
Health Care Without Harm
Health Care Without Harm is a global organization whose mission is to make healthcare more environmentally healthy, sustainable, and just. Its website is rich with resources and their program’s areas include:
- Climate Change
- Healthy Foods
- Restorative Health
- Safer Chemicals
- Toxic Materials
- Waste Management
For those nurses outside of the US, Health Care Without Harm also has regional programs in Latin America, Asia, and Europe, and Green and Global Healthy Hospitals also provides global perspectives.
Pharmaceutical Waste is Tricky!
- Some meds are controlled substances for their medicinal effects or because they can be toxic, like narcotics or chemotherapeutic meds
- Some meds are controlled because they have dangerous physical properties, like nitroglycerine
- Drugs for humans are ending up in our rivers and streams throughout the US, evidenced by their discovery in the tissues of fish and marine life
- Pharmaceuticals are also detected in our drinking water
Credit: Al Granberg.
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has information on pharmaceutical waste Disposal.
What Are Nurses Up to Regarding Greening Healthcare?
In addition to the environmental health issues associated with hospitals, CNEHJ’s Greening Hospital TEAM is working on several occupational health risks to nurses including nurses’ respiratory exposures to:
- Fine particles of medicines when nurses split or crush pills
- Surgical smoke. To listen to nurse Kay Ball discuss the health risks associated with surgical smoke go to this Friend of Flo: Surgical Smoke YouTube. While some states now require devices that capture the smoke thus preventing exposures, a bill that would require this recently failed in CA. We will be exploring how we can re-engage the state in requiring the best health and safety protection for nurses.
- Anesthetic gasses that patients breathe out in post-op settings
Nurses Take the Lead on Environmental Health and Hospital Sustainability
Nurse Lisa Hartmayer works at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center where she is an Adult NP with a specialty in Occupational and Environmental Health. She helped to launch UCSF’s Green Team and is committed to making health care more environmentally sustainable. She has worked as the Co-chair of the UCSF Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability. Lisa, who is on the Leadership Council of CNEHJ, also Chairs the CNEHJ Greening Hospitals TEAM and she invites you to join their meetings. See the CNEHJ calendar for the next meeting date.
Nurse Erin Carrera, along with Lisa Hartmayer, are co-investigators with UC Berkeley scientists on a study that is looking at the occupational chemical exposures that nurses are experiencing by looking at the chemicals in nurses’ urine and blood. Erin works at UCSF in the PACU. She has a Green MBA and is on the CNEHJ Leadership Council.
Nurse Dante Laghetto, works at Kaiser where he is actively involved in the Kaiser San Diego Green Team. He is also on the CNEHJ Leadership Council.
Nurse Shanda Demorest is the Sustainability Strategy Manager for Practice Green Health and she leads the Nurses Climate Challenge, a global initiative that aims to mobilize nurses to educate health professionals about the health impacts of climate change.
Nurse Beth Schenk, is the Executive Director of Environmental Stewardship for Providence, a health system with 16 hospitals in CA. Her first successful recycling program was 25 years ago! Beth has a series of excellent podcasts in which she interviews nurses who are involved in environmental health and greening health care. She also writes blogs, like this one entitled, “Caring for the Earth is Never Done.”