Left to right: Molly Gardener and Jenna Hentz-McDorr model the new Blue Wrap.by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
BRUNSWICK — Mid Coast Hospital has launched a brand-new recycling program that will turn previously discarded surgical waste into park benches and other useful plastic objects.
The program, which is based off of a product called Blue Wrap and is the first of its kind in the state, will reduce the hospital’s waste costs and put material that was previously sent straight to the landfill back into circulation.
“The Blue Wrap recycling program is an awesome opportunity, not just for Mid Coast Hospital, but for hospitals across the state,” said Judith Kelsh, a communications specialist at Mid Coast Hospital.
The program, which is provided by Kimberly Clark Healthcare and Casella Waste Management, will greatly reduce the amount of waste coming from the operating rooms. The Blue Wrap, which must be discarded after each use to keep the operating rooms sterile, forms a large percentage of the hospital’s waste. The material is also used in a number of other places, and can’t be reused or washed.
“We were without recycling opportunities for the material in Maine for a long time,” said Kelsh. According to Kelsh, Mid Coast worked with Kimberly Clark to determine the best method for recycling the Blue Wrap.
The method they selected is similar to what is used in other recyclables, according to Ralph Precopio, who works in Casella’s zero-sort recycling program.
“We’re taking the material and baling it, and sending it on to a company that’s using it as recyclable material,” said Precopio.
According to Precopio, this method has not only reduced the amount of waste produced, it has also made dealing with the material easier and cheaper.
“In the past, it was a real difficult product to manage,” said Precopio. By his estimates, the new method has reduced the cost of taking care of the material by 20 percent.
With the program being very successful so far, Precopio says they are looking to institute similar programs with other hospitals.
“It looks like with the interest that we’ve had in the medical field that we’ll be able to do that,” said Precopio. “It’s all kind of ground-floor right now, but we’re gaining momentum really quickly.”
The program itself owes a lot to the hard work of Molly Gardner, who works with linen and waste management at Mid Coast, and who has been looking for an effective way to recycle the material for years.
“It’s always been on the agenda. It’s always on the back burner. There hasn’t been a right answer for it,” said Gardner. “It’s not a new idea. Every item in the trash stream, we want it to be something else. We want it to go somewhere else, because we don’t want it in the landfill. We just haven’t had a way to move it out of here economically. We’re starting that ball rolling.”
The nature of the material makes it difficult to recycle. It is made out of a specific kind of plastic that doesn’t mix well with more common plastics, and until recently a method of recycling has been unavailable. The desire to recycle it has been there for quite a while, considering the amount of the material that the hospital produces.
“There’s so much blue wrap, and it’s pouring out of every hospital,” said Gardner. “Right now we’re collecting about 100 pounds a week.”
Although 100 pounds doesn’t sound like much, the material is very light and thin, so that 100 pounds translates to a massive volume of material.
According to Gardner, they are trying to get other organizations and hospitals in the area to recycle the material so that the cost of recycling it will go down.
“If other hospitals in our area were involved with the same companies and wanted to reprocess their blue wrap, then we’re worth a truck trip and we don’t have to go through the expense of mailing it out ourselves,” said Gardner.
That expense, while not insignificant, is still lower than the cost of putting it in a landfill, according to Gardner.
Although the project is in its infancy, according to Gardner, the results so far have been very positive, and employees at the hospital are enthusiastic about the project.
“Twice in the last couple of weeks, I’ve bumped into staff where they’ve sort of organized their own things to collect the material,” said Gardner.
Although she has been instrumental in the project, Gardner said that it has been the combined efforts of Mid Coast Hospital, Kimberly Clark Healthcare, and Casella Waste Management that have made everything possible.
“It can’t take all the credit,” said Gardner. “It couldn’t be happening without the cooperation of three different organizations.”