5 Ways to Green-ify Health Care
Normally in health care, being green is not a good thing. In fact, in most cases it will have someone running for a basin or bucket! But health care could learn a lot from taking a closer look at all things green–patients and environmentalists alike. Health care, with the necessity for disposability and sterility, has become very wasteful. The average community hospital has an annual carbon footprint equal to that of a small South American or Caribbean country of 250,000 to 750,00 citizens. That’s a lot of waste, and all of it is produced by a place that’s supposed to better the health and welfare of the community and its citizens. Imagine the carbon footprints of the larger hospitals of universities and large urban centers!
Health care has a need to go green, and here are a few ways they can do just that.
- Used medical equipment – Recycling expensive health-care machinery is one very good way for small hospitals and clinics to reduce their impact on the environment. Almost everything is available used today, from refurbished surgery equipment like used anesthesia machines to patient monitors, EKGs, and IV equipment. Buying a refurbished autoclave or a used portable x-ray machine when the old one is no longer worth maintaining will not only save money, but the environment, too.
- Watch the light – Hospitals function 24 hours a day, making their use of electricity just for lighting one of their biggest energy drains. Adding as much natural light as possible–patient rooms, stairwells, public spaces like cafeterias and waiting areas–can cut down on the need for artificial lights during daylight hours. Installing occupancy monitors in less commonly used areas like restrooms, linen rooms, treatment rooms, and staff break rooms can also reduce the usage, as the lights are only on when someone is in the room, and there’s never a need for reminders to turn them off.
- Paper or plastic – So much of what is used in hospitals is disposable, and with good reason. However, whenever possible, hospitals should use metal, glass, and pottery. Many hospitals have switched to serving patients out of styrofoam cups, with meals served on styrofoam plates with plastic cutlery. This was a move made to supposedly save on water and energy used in dish washing. The waste created by all that styrofoam and plastic, however, is most likely much greater than that of using crockery, silverware, and glass. Hospitals are also huge consumer of paper–patient charts, patient forms, information sheets, staff memos; you name it. Hospitals will write it down twice, put it in a computer, print it out in triplicate, and then make copies of half of that again. Finding ways to reduce paper use and waste isn’t that difficult with some technology. Some hospitals are switching to tablets and laptops for the nursing staff. All patient information can easily be entered into the computer without ever having to write anything down (or even leave the patient’s room.) New computer storage systems are reducing the need for so many paper records. And the ability to email results and other patient info to a physician’s cell phone or office computer is eliminating some of the paper trail in medicine. More hospitals just need to implement these systems.
Health care should care about the health and welfare of ALL citizens, present and future. Going green is one way hospitals and community clinics can do just that.