Practice Greenhealth reports that, “As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally responsible products and technologies,” said President Obama in Executive Order 13415
This is a tall order for any organization, let alone the largest health care system on the planet, but the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), with more than 150 hospitals and 800 outpatient care clinics across the country, has embraced the challenge and is on its way to meeting this ambitious goal. “The VHA has always been on the forefront of environmental stewardship,” notes Derrick Morrison, VHA’s program manager for waste management and recycling programs in the Environmental Programs Service. “The VHA is a charter member of Practice Greenhealth, but this order has taken the VHA’s environmental efforts to a new level.” In 2010, VHA diverted 27 percent of its nonhazardous solid waste through its recycling and composting programs but knew they could do more.
VHA accounts for 99 percent of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ total waste. One of VHA’s challenges is to track waste data in a consistent manner.
One hospital in the pilot project, the Portland VA Medical Center in Oregon, has already surpassed its 2015 goal. The hospital is not only reducing waste but also saving money. Even the smallest changes are making a big impact at the facility. For example, the ICU nurses examined how much waste and recycling was leaving a patient room during patient discharge. By evaluating and eliminating certain items on the ICU cart that were unnecessary, they are saving close to $80,000 a year. Portland VA’s recycling efforts have also been tremendous. In 2012, the hospital recycled 11.1 tons of fluorescent lamps and bulbs, 315 tons of mixed paper, 92 tons of yard debris, 65.5 tons of commingled plastic, and 28.5 tons of medical plastic. And through their new composting program, it has composted 78.5 tons of food waste this year.