UW News

May 31, 2007

UWMC wins national environmental award

Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering

Gary Butrymowicz has empty pop cans in his office. He also has a bin with cardboard coffee sleeves and straw wrappers. When he visits the Plaza Café to grab lunch, Butrymowicz puts the items into recycling bins.

As director of Environmental Services, he sets a great example for UW Medical Center. It’s no surprise, then, that under his leadership, UWMC won a 2007 Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) award at the leadership level. H2E was founded by the American Hospital Association, the Environmental Protection Agency, Health Care Without Harm and the American Nurses Association.

UWMC is the first hospital in Washington state to win the award and was one of eight recipients nationwide this year. Leadership award winners must recycle at least 25 percent of solid waste (UWMC weighed in at 27 percent) and have eliminated mercury from facilities. The hospital is judged as part of the UW community and its accomplishments reflect goals set by UW President Mark Emmert, Butrymowicz said.

UWMC efforts are impressive. Medical waste has decreased from 950,000 pounds in FY 2001-02 to 427,354 pounds in FY 2005-06. Recyclables during the same period increased from 324 to 667 tons (51 percent). This also translates into financial savings. Last year, UWMC avoided $78,718 in landfill costs and received a rebate of $32,261 for recycled paper.

Even sharps disposal has dropped, with related costs decreasing from $48,116 to $25,826 over the last five years, Butrymowicz said.

Tim Nguyen, program operations manager of UWMC Waste Management/Environmental Services, and Sheila Lockwood, program operations coordinator, UW Environmental Health and Safety, are among the key players in the environmental change. Nguyen and Lockwood identify areas of need, work with departments to improve recycling and waste, and provide ongoing training for staff.

Nguyen worked with Operating Room management and staff for two years. “From the first year to the next, we had more than a 50 percent waste reduction,” he said. One “trick” to making it all work is to have more visible waste. Employees now see clear waste bags for regular trash and red bags with logos for medical waste. In the environmental realm, it’s know as “source separation.”

What’s next on the group’s agenda? Nguyen said they are working with Surgical Services to “recapture” medical devices and Materials Management to further reduce ethylene oxide (a chemical used to sterilize instruments). Pharmacy will also be a big focus, said Lockwood.

“Winning the H2E award validates the whole process,” she noted. “It also renews interest in where you can take your institution.”