UCLA has been working to support the environment by reducing the amount of hazardous material that we dispose of, reusing and recycling wherever possible.
Originally printed in the UCLA Mednet Townhall
One measure of our success is the amount of medical waste produced (products that require special precautions before disposal, including blood, needles, scalpels and body parts). In 2005, UCLA Health System produced 6,372 pounds of medical waste for every 1,000 patient days. In 2006, that number fell to 5,310, a reduction of nearly 17 percent.
Such success calls for commitment at all levels of the organization. Victor Kennedy, director of the UCLA Health System Safety Department proclaims, “This is an area that I am passionate about, and the administration has been very supportive. Recycling isn’t always cheaper — in fact, it often costs a little bit more — but it’s a good thing to do for the environment and the organization has really gotten behind it.” Programs to reduce environmental impact have been put in place in all UCLA Health System hospitals and include a variety of strategies.
- Mercury can get into waterways, contaminate the food chain, and pose a threat to human health. The mercury found in a single thermometer can contaminate 5 million gallons of water! UCLA Health System has eliminated all mercury-based instruments — including thermometers, blood pressure cuffs and Hurst dilators — and is now completely mercury-free.
- All hospitals use chemicals to sterilize surfaces and reduce the spread of infectious diseases. UCLA Health System has switched from using highly toxic compounds to non-toxic or significantly less toxic alternatives.
- UCLA Health System now contracts with a new vendor for disposing biohazard waste — including sharps and other materials contaminated with body fluids — that reuses the biohazard containers. Reusing these containers keeps 40 to 60 tons from UCLA alone from being incinerated or autoclaved and then added to landfills.
- UCLA has purchased recycling distillation equipment and is recycling alcohol from the clinical labs. In 2006, 2,424 gallons of alcohol were recycled.
- UCLA Health System has developed programs to ensure that electronic waste is handled appropriately. Batteries — from the AA-size used in pagers to large batteries used in power back-up systems for medical and computer equipment — are disposed of properly, as are computers and other electronic equipment.
Of course, minimizing environmental impact extends beyond being mindful of toxic materials and includes the use and disposal of a wide variety of materials. UCLA Health System participates in UCLA campus-wide efforts to recycle paper, cans and bottles.
Other efforts throughout the organization reflect the care UCLA employees have for the health of our environment. At Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital’s Café Santa Monica, styrofoam cups are being replaced with paper products. Lois Horne, director of food and nutrition services at Santa Monica feels that the program is in keeping with institutional values. She says, “The replacements tend to be biodegradable and more environmentally friendly, which fits with our concern for the wellness of our patients and the health of our community.”
Published: Monday, June 02, 2008