Earth Day: Reducing OR Waste

24 Apr 2018

By Shaleen Sathe

The Association of Women Surgeons hosts an annual “Greening the OR” Contest to celebrate Earth Day and to bring innovative proposals for environmental sterwardship in the field of surgery.  More information about Greening the OR can be found here. The deadline for this upcoming year will be in June 2018. 

Last year, Pawarissara Osathanugrah, Varsha Muralidhar, and Alexus Skobodzinski, medical students at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), proposed a procedural change in the operating room (OR) at Boston Medical Center (BMC) to reduce the amount of recyclable material that is discarded as hazardous waste.

Although many operating rooms separate recyclable waste from waste contaminated by bodily fluids during a procedure, there is a high risk for cross-contamination that reduces the amount of recyclable material that is actually recycled. The proposal to green the OR was to have only one waste receptacle in the OR at a time to avoid any cross-contamination. A receptacle for uncontaminated, recyclable material would be placed in the OR at the beginning of the procedure, so that only recyclable materials such as drapes, packaging, etc. are disposed of without the risk of hazardous contamination. Then, just as the procedure begins, at time-out, this recyclable receptacle would be removed from the OR and replaced with a new contaminated waste receptacle in order to collect the contaminated material from the procedure itself.

The BUSM and BMC community demonstrated strong interest in their ideas, and both faculty members and students reached out to contribute. Osathanugrah, Muralidhar, and Skobodzinski have opened dialogue about creating a more environmentally conscious OR and raised awareness of the enormous impact medical and surgical waste has on the environment. At BMC, a few hundred surgical procedures each produce several pounds of waste daily; each pound of material that is recycled instead of discarded as contaminated waste could save the hospital twenty-seven cents. The hope in implementing this small procedural change would drastically minimize not only hospital waste management costs but also the yearly carbon footprint that our hospital creates.

Eventually, we hope to gather even more support from students, faculty, and staff who will participate in this initiative to facilitate the movement of waste receptacles around the OR and to start this as a permanent practice not only at Boston Medical Center, but at hospitals all over the nation.

Shaleen Sathe is a first-year medical student at Boston University, where she also completed her undergraduate studies in Medical Science and Spanish. She currently serves as the AWS New England Regional Representative on the national medical student committee. Shaleen has also been very involved with Socially Responsible Surgery at Boston Medical Center, a non-profit organization that works to integrate the practice of surgery with patient advocacy, education, and elimination of health disparities. Shaleen continues to pursue her interests in general surgery, ophthalmology, and social determinants of health, while trying to balance her hobbies outside of medicine.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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