Feature Stories

Jai Eun Huh and Sophia Labeko, June 2022

Success: Turn Medical Waste into Art

Waste to Art, UCSF’s first challenge dedicated to turning medical waste into art, and part of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) fellowship program, drew in a crowd of clinical and staff participants interested in creating art from our own medical waste.

The Healthcare industry is the second-largest waste generator in the US after the food industry, producing more than 5 million tons of waste each year. Among them, 85% of the waste is non-infectious and ends up in landfills with only a small fraction being recycled and repurposed.

Jai Eun Huh, a third-year UCSF School of Dentistry student and the recipient of the CNI fellowship wanted to raise awareness about this issue by creating an exhibition that would showcase upcycled artworks incorporating medical waste.

“Waste to Art exhibition encourages people to reframe and view single-use items as something that can be upcycled and incorporated into diverse uses. I envision healthcare and technology becoming more accessible and environmentally sustainable. Sustainability in practice requires collaboration and constant dialogue between participating staff, clinicians, scientists, and partners. Being a CNI fellow, I am making a real-world impact and building a network of brilliant leaders in sustainability efforts in their respective fields,” explains Huh.

Mentored by Seema Gandhi, MD, associate professor, UCSF School of Medicine; Kaiyi Wang, project policy analyst, UCSF Health; and Gail Lee, director of sustainability, UCSF Office of Sustainability, the project was two-fold:
1. to gather support and active participation from diverse graduate communities and health campuses and
2. to encourage people to reflect on the waste in our lives and think about ways we can transition into a more sustainable future.

Art Exhibit

The winning piece, titled “In the Belly of the Beast” (pictured above) by Valentina Rozenson, is made completely out of the medical waste produced in her post-anesthesia care unit, where she works as a nurse. Her piece, a whale, reflects on the cycle of landfill waste, from the moment non-recyclables are placed in the black bin to when “the creatures in the sea end up consuming it and washing up on shore,” she explains.

Second Place:Waste to HeART” by Sheryl Warfield
Third Place:Anesthesia Waste to Art Mural” by Teal Jenkins, Elizabeth Whitlock, Seema Gandhi (Pictured above)
Honorable Mention:Expression of a Chronically Ill Caregiver” by Christine Sarmiento

The placing art pieces were selected through a combination of public online voting and a panel of internal and external judges - Dan Henriod, director of the Department of Nutrition and Food Services and serves as the sustainability officer for UCSF Health; Freddy Coronado, an active member of the Bay Area’s zero waste community; Chloe Choi, a freelance artist based in NYC with a demonstrated history of combining art and tech to create innovative projects with a focus on reducing waste; Francis Lin, an industrial designer at Bould Design.