UCSF Sustainability Stories

Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, October 2014

Health Care Without Harm Visits UCSF to Explore the Medical Center’s Sustainability Initiatives

Photo1Following an international planning meeting for the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network (GGHH), a project of Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international group of health care sustainability and waste management experts toured UCSF Medical Center.  The tour provided the visitors an overview of how waste is managed at the hospital and highlighted other sustainability initiatives. The group included the following people representing sustainability and waste management expertise from Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, China, Nepal and the Philippines:

  Antonella Risso, Responsable Técnica, Salud sin Daño - América Latina;
  Ayeth Enrile, Safer Chemicals Campaigner, HCWH Asia;
  Diego Pereira Ramos, Especialista de Sustentabilidade, Projeto Hospitais Saudáveis;
  Faye Ferrer, Program Coordinator HCWH Asia;
  Chao Jiang, GGHH Development Project Manager in China;
  Luqman Yesufu, GGHH Campaign Manager, Membership Outreach and Engagement in Africa;
  Mahesh Nakarmi, Director, Health Care Waste Management Program, Nepal;
  Scott Slotterback, GGHH Policy Director;
  Susan Wilburn, GGHH Sustainability Director;
  Vital Ribeiro, Executive Director, Projeto Hospitais Saudáveis; and
  Nischal Neupane, Sustainability Coordinator, HCWH Asia.

Best Practices at UCSF

Some of the best practices highlighted on the tour included:

Photo2Composting and Recycling:  UCSF diverts 45% of its waste through its recycling and composting programs, such as patient room recycling, composting of paper towels in bathrooms, and composting 90 percent of all patient and retail food waste.  San Francisco’s excellent infrastructure is a key to the success of these programs. Antonella Risso, from HCWH in Argentina, works to push forward best practices from the US, such as composting and recycling.  “South America is many years behind on composting due to the lack of infrastructure,” she commented.  According to Antonella, the tour to UCSF helped her bring new ideas back to her members.  “It was useful to see the practices firsthand and talk to the people that are using them,” she explained. 

On-Site Sterilization:  To protect the public and the environment from potentially infectious disease causing agents, the disposal of medical waste is carefully regulated.  However, strategies are available to keep regulated medical waste to no more than 10 percent of total waste (see the recent Healthier Hospital Initiative 2013 Milestone Report for details).  The tour visited UCSF’s decentralized on-site sterilization system for medical waste.  UCSF’s automated autoclaves sterilize lab and infectious waste so it can be disposed of at the landfill, rather than be sent to a hazardous waste disposal facility.

Reusable Sharps Containers:  UCSF has contracted with Stericycle®, a medical waste and sharps disposal company, to collect, disinfect and reuse plastic containers for “sharps”—hypodermic needles and other sharp tools such as scalpels—as well as certain glass vials. This change diverts more than 100,000 pounds of plastic waste from landfills and saves about $250,000 a year.  In the past, when the containers were full, the whole thing was sterilized and landfilled. Now, each container is used hundreds of times.

Switching from Disposable Patient Pillows
: The medical center has switched from disposable patient pillows to vinyl-covered reusable ones that are cleaned and disinfected after each patient is discharged from the hospital. Each pillow is expected to last about six months rather than be thrown out after each patient’s hospital stay. In the past, the medical center purchased about 160,000 disposable pillows a year, resulting in 296,000 pounds of waste. The change to reusable pillows is expected to save the medical center an additional $250,000 a year. 

Use of Reprocessed Single Use Devices:   Another way UCSF reduces waste and saves money is through its program to reprocess single-use medical devices.  The medical center realized over $700,000 in cost savings in FY 13-14 by repurchasing the reprocessed items for about half the cost.  This practice also diverts over 14 tons of waste from landfill each year.

Learn More

Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Agenda outlines 10 issues for hospitals to address in order to promote greater sustainability and environmental health.  In addition to reducing waste, the other priorities include: