Nurse starts 'blue wrap' recycling program

Kaiser Roseville Medical Center recycles 2,500 pounds a month of heavy-duty plastic material
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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All the “blue wrap” waste used to drive Christine Collins nuts. So the operating room nurse at Kaiser Roseville Medical Center did something about the problem. The veteran nurse — who has worked at Kaiser for 26 years — spent her off hours researching a way to dispose of the heavy-duty polypropylene plastic that didn’t require throwing the material into trash bins. Blue wrap is used as a protective cover to wrap and store sterilized instruments in the operating room. The material also makes up the “bunny” suits that medical personnel wear during operations. Kaiser regularly recycles cardboard, shrink-wrap and paper, but there was no way to recycle blue wrap. But then Collins learned that Oregon hospitals have been recycling the blue wrap for nearly a decade and after further investigation, she located the company that recycles the highly specialized product. She became a member of the Roseville Green Team and connected with Scott Vaughan, Kaiser Roseville’s Environmental Health and Safety Specialist and chair of the Green Team. “Nurses have good ideas, but we don’t have the time to put them into action,” Collins said. In May 2009, the two launched a blue wrap-recycling program. “Everybody got really excited,” Collins said. “It was a cool thing.” Staff members now capture 100 percent of the sterile blue wrap in Kaiser Roseville’s six operating rooms. From May to December 2009, some 20,000 pounds of blue wrap were recycled. That’s 10 tons. This 2,500 pounds-a-month average continues today. “Polypropylene plastic takes years and years to disintegrate,” Vaughan said. “Anytime you divert it from the landfill, that’s good for sustainability.” Blue wrap feels and acts like soft paper. The durable plastic material can be recycled into wash buckets, lawn furniture, flowerpots, squirt bottles, plastic lumber for picnic tables and thousands of other commonly used products. Hospitals in the United States generate millions of tons of waste each year, which includes blue wrap, bandages, culture dishes, glassware, discarded surgical gloves and instruments, needles, removed body organs, discarded lancets and more. Vaughan estimates that 70 percent of medical waste comes from operating rooms. Nurses fill up several recycling containers with blue wrap in a single day. Vaughan said the willingness and commitment of front-line staff to the program is key and that Kaiser has total buy-in from nurses. “I think that’s been the success of the program,” Vaughan said. The success has influenced other local hospitals to recycle the blue wrap, including the Kaiser Surgery Center, Kaiser Sacramento Medical Center and Rancho Cordova Medical Center. The Roseville location is also expanding the program to its Women’s and Children’s Center. “When (people) hear about something they can do to help the environment, they are willing to do it,” Collins said. Kaiser Roseville Medical Center was recently honored with a “Partner for Change” award by Practice Greenhealth, a national health care organization. The award recognizes outstanding environmental achievements in the health care sector. To receive the award, a hospital must recycle more than 10 percent of its waste stream. The blue wrap recycling program has significantly contributed to Kaiser’s ability to meet this target. Under the program, nurses dispose of the wrap in special recycling containers, which are gathered by environmental services personnel and loaded onto the dock where the recycling company picks up the bags. “It’s really a team effort,” Collins said. “It’s not a one-person job. That’s a hospital — you can’t do anything by yourself.” Sena Christian can be reached at