Take a second and think about all the elements that go into the efficient administration and operation of a hospital. Go on. I am waiting. Did eco-friendly disposables come into your mind? Probably not. However, at St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, hospital management and staff made a big leap in reducing our collective carbon footprint and eliminating the health risks associated with using plastic disposables.
Hospitals typically go through hundreds of thousands of cups, plates, bowls and other disposable products every year. St. Vincent's reported a staggering 1,194,000 cups were used and tossed each year. This waste adds up -- particularly when the items in question are made of polystyrene foam, more commonly known as Styrofoam.
In an effort to reduce public health problems and help create and maintain a greener world, hospitals countrywide are phasing out products made of plastic foam, which resists biodegradation and is not always accepted by recycling programs.
On July 1, 2010 St. Vincent's of Bridgeport began replacing its non-green cups with more environmentally sound alternatives. Following suit, Griffin Hospital of Derby, Connecticut also began replacing its foam products with "green" items and did away with plastic cutlery in favor of starch-based products.
Hospital officials all said the changes were crucial to making the facilities more Earth-conscious citizens. "We're trying to make whatever changes we can to decrease our pollution," said Deborah Ventricelli, corporate director of food and nutrition at St. Vincent's. "We go through so much of that stuff every day."
Although greener products come with a higher price tag, the progressive key players behind these landmark decisions agreed that the changes were necessary, whatever the cost. Hospitals generally have a large carbon footprint, given the amount of energy they use and the volume of waste they produce, said Jim Gengo, St. Vincent's director of environmental services, and chairman of the hospital's 4-year-old Go Green Campaign.
Foam bans such as these are just the latest steps hospitals are taking to become more environmentally sound. In February, St. Vincent's ceased the sale of bottled water on premises. Previously, the hospital had been selling about 350,000 bottles of water a year. The hospital also primarily uses green cleaning products, and doesn't use pesticides on its grass, plants, flowers or shrubs.
Gengo said banning plastic foam products was the number one request made of the Green Campaign by hospital employees. In addition to the million-plus cups used annually, St. Vincent's uses about 594,000 disposable plates a year, and 129,000 bowls. Ventricelli said the foam-free effort has the potential to have a large effect on both the hospital and the surrounding community.
"We can have a big impact because of the size (of the hospital) and we can have an impact by setting an example with the things we do," she said.
Brunetti agreed. Like St. Vincent's, Bridgeport has a green committee, and has instituted a variety of environmentally friendly practices. Brunetti said Bridgeport Hospital and St. Vincent's are major employers and providers in the greater Bridgeport area. As such, they have a responsibility to be conscientious about their practices.
"That's what hospitals are here for -- to make a healthier lifestyle for folks in the community," he said.