Health care goes green

 
By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: October 14th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
Play
Play

Think about the last time you went to the doctor’s office. If you got a throat culture, the swab used to take the sample went straight in the trash. Same with the tongue depressor, maybe even the hospital robe. The U-S medical industry generates more than two million tons of waste every year, according to environmental advocates. And much of that refuse is burned in incinerators, which releases toxins into the environment. While the medical industry is making patients well, it may be making our planet sick.

Of course, you wouldn’t want doctors re-using tongue depressors. But now hospitals are joining together to find ways to make their daily operations more environmentally friendly. A new government-supported non-profit organization called Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, or H-2-E, is helping to lead the way. H-2-E offers guidance on how to promote safer building products, cleaner air, reduced toxins and safer working practices, among other things.

Some of the group’s goals are very straightforward, such as the virtual elimination of mercury and the minimization of hazardous chemicals. Others… like cutting down on waste and using fewer resources… are more difficult to achieve because hospitals are twenty-four-hour-a-day operations.

Still, every little bit helps. And in addition to being environmentally sound, some of the practices make fiscal sense, too. After performing an energy audit, one northern Virginia health care system decided to shut off the lights in vending machines. The result? The organization saved more than fifteen-thousand dollars in one year.