Green teams form at Spectrum Health

March 24, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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Spectrum Health is expanding its green and sustainable efforts system wide, with a push underway now to set up “green teams,” along with an education/communication program to support single-stream recycling.

Josh Miller, the Spectrum Health sustainability coordinator, said that starting in January, green teams were being formed at every Spectrum Health facility, which includes the hospitals, its medical group and Priority Health.

“The teams have representation from a lot of different departments in the organization,” he said, including the supply chain, facility management, maintenance, environmental services (cleaning and waste removal) and construction services.

“These teams are going to be responsible for creating and implementing sustainable programs that are specific to their locations,” said Miller.

One aspect of the health care system’s new sustainability drive that now affects every employee every day on the job is single-stream recycling. Miller said single-stream recycling means that “basically, anything that is recyclable can go into one container.” The containers are specially designated for recyclables only.

Success or failure of the process is “all on the employees,” he said, who have to learn what kind of material is recyclable and what isn’t.

“It’s a huge education and communication piece,” he added, which includes stickers being put on different materials to indicate whether they go into the recycle container or not.

When Miller joined Spectrum Health in 2007, one of his responsibilities was to expand the existing recycling program beyond paper and cardboard to include plastics, batteries and objects such as light bulbs.

Spectrum Health’s Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals are now recycling about 70 tons of waste material each month. The largest share of that is corrugated paper (cardboard), then paper, then plastics.

The hospitals’ environmental services workers collect the recyclable material at Butterworth every other day and once a week at Blodgett, and take it to a centralized compactor on a loading dock. Rapid Recycling, a division of Rapid Shred, picks up the compacted material and sorts it with automated machinery at its facilities in Grandville.

According to Miller:

**From 2007 through 2009, Blodgett Hospital recycled 560 tons of materials, saving roughly $35,000 in incinerator/landfill fees.

**In 2007 Blodgett Hospital was recycling 13 percent of the overall waste stream. By the end of 2009, it was recycling 23 percent.

**From 2007 through 2009, Butterworth Hospital recycled 1,515 tons of materials, saving roughly $120,000 in incinerator/landfill fees.

**In 2007, Butterworth was recycling 8 percent of its overall waste stream. By the end of 2009, it was recycling 19 percent.

Hazardous medical waste containers are now picked up by a vendor that incinerates the contents, as required by law, and then sterilizes the reusable plastic containers and returns them to Spectrum facilities for re-use. Previously, those containers had been used once and trashed.

Sustainability at Spectrum also includes an expanding focus on many other processes and substances, such as energy efficiency, reduced water use, reduced use of VOC compounds in cleaning chemicals for improved indoor air quality, and more. Of course, LEED construction standards for new or expanded structures have been a given for a few years now, as is the case at many other health care facilities in West Michigan.

Money is a consideration, too.

“One of the main components of sustainability is ensuring that we are not only improving the environment, but also meeting bottom-line requirements — making sure we are financially stable in our program,” said Miller.

Take that 32-cubic-yard trash compactor, for example. It is “a little larger than your average dump truck,” said Miller. He wasn’t sure how much it cost, guessing it might have been in the range of $10,000, but Spectrum tries to buy that type of equipment refurbished rather than buying new, he said.

The point of energy reduction is primarily the bottom line, although that logically also has a beneficial impact on the environment.

“We’ve formed an energy management team at a system-wide level,” he said, involving facility managers from all Spectrum hospitals and Priority Health, and also the physician offices, urgent care facilities and clinics to look at ways to reduce energy consumption.

Miller said Spectrum is also starting to look at possible applications of alternative energy devices such as solar generators.

New construction or renovation of facilities always include low-flow plumbing fixtures where possible. The Spectrum HVAC system uses closed-loop water supplies for chillers and boilers, whereas older HVAC systems often discharge the water and replace it with fresh.

The new Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion at the main Spectrum Health Medical Center on Michigan Street includes a water storage tank below the parking garage that collects rain runoff for irrigating the grounds. The cancer center has a “green roof” with vegetation planted on it to retain runoff and keep the building a little cooler in summer.

The Spectrum Health facilities budget now covers Rapid rides for employees who live in the bus service areas for transportation to and from work. Spectrum also provides employees with a car-pooling database to help them share rides.

Recently, Spectrum Health commissioned the professional services of Practice Greenhealth, a national hospital consulting organization, and has started working with Health Care Without Harm for advice on ways to reduce its environmental impact.

The green teams being formed will have from seven to 15 members, with the group meeting for at least one hour a month, although some members may spend more time on specific projects.

“We have a lot of proven programs at Butterworth and Blodgett that are easily adapted to our other facilities,” said Miller. The Spectrum Health Hospital Group includes seven hospitals and more than 140 service sites in West Michigan. The Spectrum Health system has 16,000 employees, including 1,500 medical staff and almost 2,000 volunteers.

“For the most part, most (employees and volunteers) are in support of our sustainability program, but I think there’s always a little bit of sales to be done,” said Miller. “We have a really good culture here at Spectrum; they embrace the need for change.”

The economy is showing signs of being kinder to Spectrum’s recycling business partner, Rapid Shred/Rapid Recycle. The recession severely reduced scrap prices for recyclable materials, but Rapid Shred/Rapid Recycle owner Scott Dennis that “over the past few months, prices have come up a little bit.”

Rapid Shred was formed more than 10 years ago to specialize in secure destruction of sensitive documents. That eventually came to include much of the wastepaper and film from medical facilities, because it often contains patient data, which is subject to strict patient privacy laws. Now, the four-year-old recycling division is working to develop markets for much of the hospital waste it collects, such as “blue wrap,” a sterile plastic-type fabric used extensively in surgical situations.

Much of the waste from hospitals is a range of plastics, and at least one local company — Cascade Engineering — is now a customer for some of the plastics recovered by Rapid Recycle.

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