One PeaceHealth hospital has developed its own version of “farm to table” to reduce waste, decrease greenhouse gas emissions and cut costs.
Brent Cheney, an inpatient nurse at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, uses fruit and vegetable trimmings set aside by the hospital’s kitchen staff to feed the pigs, chickens and cow at his family’s farm.
PeaceHealth Southwest diverts about 13 tons of food scraps a year in this fashion, saving the hospital about $2,000 annually in hauling fees and virtually eliminating the greenhouse gases that the waste would have produced while decomposing in a landfill, said Brian Nelson, the hospital's sustainability program manager.
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“Food is the largest source of human-caused methane in a landfill,” he said. “So we’re reducing our footprint, helping feed Brent’s farm and saving thousands of dollars that would’ve been spent shipping the food waste to the landfill.”
Vancouver-based PeaceHealth, which operates 10 hospitals across Washington, Oregon and Alaska, is piloting several environmental initiatives at PeaceHealth Southwest.
To further limit waste, the hospital’s cooks use a digester that converts food scraps to reusable nutrient-rich greywater, Nelson said. PeaceHealth Southwest has processed more than 30,000 pounds of food waste in this fashion since the method was introduced in late 2022, he said.
Beyond food waste
PeaceHealth Southwest has implemented numerous other strategies aimed at reducing waste and promoting green practices.
It reduced its use of one of the most environmentally harmful anesthetic gases, desflurane, by 99.5% from 2021 to 2022. Desflurane, which is used as an anesthetic, is 20 times as powerful in trapping heat in the atmosphere as sevoflurane, a common alternative.
Next, the hospital plans to use nitrous oxide canisters rather than its internal piping system, which tends to leak, Nelson said.
Last year, PeaceHealth Southwest also recycled more than 16,450 pounds of blue wrap, which is used to cover surgical trays and other sterile supplies. Nurses gather the material and give it to vendor representatives, who take the blue wrap to a recycling center for conversion into medical supplies.
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“Nurses in the operating room recognized that we produce a lot of [blue wrap] waste and asked what we could do differently,” Nelson said. “We as system produce about 78,000 pounds of blue wrap [a year], so it is a substantial reduction as we look to reduce our impact and [limit] sending things to the landfill.”
Four other PeaceHealth hospitals have joined the effort—St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington; St. John Medical Center in Longview, Washington; Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, Oregon; and United General Medical Center in Sedro-Woolley, Washington—and helped collect an additional 16,650 pounds of blue wrap in 2022.
Collectively, the system has saved more than $3,000 in transportation costs by avoiding trips to the landfill. It also purchased 15% less blue wrap last year.
The goal is to incrementally transition to reusable containers that don’t require blue wrap, Nelson said.