The University Record, June 4, 2001

Health System named tops in recycling for public institutions

Kara Gavin
Health System Public Relations

From phone books to batteries, cardboard to cooking grease, the U-M hospitals and health centers recycle hundreds of tons of ordinary and unusual items each year, reflecting a commitment to environmentally conscious health care.

That recycling program received Michigan’s highest honor for public institutions, the Outstanding Public Recycling Program award from the nonprofit Michigan Recycling Coalition. In a ceremony held at the coalition’s annual conference, the hospitals and health centers unit, part of the Health System, was honored as one of the state’s top four Recyclers of the Year.

“Health care and environmental stewardship can and must go hand in hand, and we are pleased to be recognized for our efforts to reduce waste and increase recycling at our hospitals, health centers, clinical laboratories and offices,” says T. Anthony Denton, the Health System’s associate director for operations. “We’ve worked hard for years to create a culture of recycling among our staff and to make recycling an institutionwide initiative that engages everyone.”

The Health System recycled more than 830 tons of material last year, diverting nearly a quarter of its trash from the waste stream and saving almost $30,000 in disposal costs. Nearly 374 tons of cardboard, 300 tons of office paper, 109 tons of scrap metal, 25 tons of cooking grease and 2.7 tons of phone books were recovered and recycled. So were 22,300 fluorescent light bulbs that might have leaked more than a kilogram of mercury into the environment if sent to a landfill.

The recycling award’s citation also applauds other environmentally conscious initiatives taking place within the Health System. Last September, UMHS closed its medical waste incinerator and began installing an innovative steam autoclave that will sterilize medical waste so it can be disposed of as general waste. The decision to switch, made by in conjunction with the community despite a higher initial cost, has cut air emissions and put more emphasis on waste reduction.

UMHS has adopted several other innovative approaches to divert waste and excess materials from landfills.

For example, bricks and concrete from renovation and demolition projects were recycled for use as roadbed materials. The operating rooms made a special effort to recycle four different kinds of plastic found in surgical kits and other medical supplies.

Nearly all the trash cans in the hospital cafeteria were removed, guiding nearly all diners’ trays to a conveyor belt that lets trained staff behind the scenes separate paper, plastic and glass for recycling. Pathology labs found a way to recycle hazardous xylene chemicals used to process test samples.

Meanwhile, medical supplies not used by their expiration date, but still viable, are donated to World Relief for use in developing nations. Excess furniture and equipment are sent to the University’s Property Disposition facility for sale to the community or reuse by U-M units. And bottles and cans with deposit value are collected and redeemed through the Save Your Can program, with a portion of the proceeds going to support programs at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Detroit-area charities.

This creative problem-solving approach to recycling and waste reduction continues, as the Health System strives to meet a voluntary goal of 33 percent waste reduction from 1998 levels by the year 2005 and 50 percent reduction by 2010, set by the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).