'Green' efforts help reduce carbon footprint at Oakwood

The Oakwood Healthcare System is taking steps to help heal the planet, too.

Oakwood is reducing its carbon footprint through innovative programs that also help protect the environment, according to Douglas Welday, executive vice-president of operations for Oakwood Healthcare, Inc. (OHI).

“It is important to be good stewards of the environment,” said Welday. “As a leading healthcare provider, we need to recognize the impact we can have on our environment and take the proper steps to keep our communities healthy and safe.”

In the United States, hospitals generate about 6,600 tons of waste every day, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA). That study also pointed out that the healthcare sector accounts for as much as eight percent of the total U.S. carbon footprint.
Since October 2010, Oakwood has partnered with Stericycle, an Illinois-based firm that specializes in environmentally-friendly methods of tracking and disposing of medical waste, to reduce waste shipped to landfills in an effort to be more environmentally conscious and to reduce costs. Through the Sharps Disposal Management program and the Rx Waste Disposal program, Oakwood has kept more than 14,000 pounds of plastic out of landfills and reduced its CO2 emissions by about 8,265 pounds—the equivalent of 156 50-gallon propane tanks. The average annual savings are about 23,500 pounds of plastic and 13,700 pounds of C02.

“It’s already had a tremendous impact,” said Tiffin Kaczkowski, director of materials management for Oakwood Healthcare.

The Sharps program replaces the containers used to collect hazardous medical waste—such as used syringes—with sturdy, reusable plastic containers. The containers are collected before they are filled, transported to a Stericycle facility, where they are sterilized through a three step process that includes high temperature wash and rinse, a high-temperature forced air drying system and then thorough inspection and reassembly. The containers can be reused 600 times. Previously, the containers were disposed of along with the waste.

The Rx Waste Disposal program is similar, using color-coded reusable containers combined with proper disposal of the pharmaceuticals that keeps them from seeping out of landfills and into groundwater. The programs complement Oakwood’s efforts to reduce its overall carbon footprint. The company also works with a third party to virtually eliminate all impact at local landfills. The company picks up the co-mingled, non-medical wastes and takes it to their facility, where the recyclable material is removed and processed. The remainder is sent to an energy facility, where it is converted to energy.

“When the process is all complete and done, we’ve really recycled 100 percent of the materials we’ve produced with zero solid waste going to local landfills,” said Kaczkowski, adding that the two efforts have helped the bottom line, too. “We’ve been able to show cost reductions in our solid waste program and in our medical waste programs.”

The programs also reduce the health risk to employees. Patients benefit, too.

“They can experience a healthier environment through the choices we’re making and the products and materials we use,” said Kaczkowski. “Their time at Oakwood is spent in a clean, healthy and healing environment.”

The other benefit is that it allows Oakwood to serve as a role model for its staff, volunteers and patients alike.

“As we reduce our carbon footprint, they share the values—along with the communities we serve—to preserve Michigan’s natural resources along with eliminating landfill usage, supporting our local economies and ultimately showing a level of responsibility in managing our waste streams,” said Welday.