Environmentally Sustainable Nursing Practices: Small Changes Make a Big Difference

As published on ajnoffthecharts.

“The decisions nurses make about waste and efficiency on the front lines of clinical care matter, and the potential impact on health and the environment should not be underestimated.”

These days, most nurses have little time for anything that isn’t COVID related. Either we’re inundated with patients, changing work flow and physical spaces to accommodate long-term social distancing, or trying to home-school our kids or plan the next trip to the grocery store. Inevitably, though, our attention will return to other urgent issues in health care. The impact of our everyday work practices on the health of the planet is one of these issues.

How often do you toss unused linen into a laundry hamper after a patient is discharged, or discard leftover but unopened supplies that have been in a patient’s room, or hurriedly throw away soiled “chux” in a “red-bagged waste” container because that’s the nearest receptacle? In “Reducing Waste in the Clinical Setting” in this month’s issue, Sara Wohlford and colleagues at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital in Roanoke, Virginia, share how increased attention to wasteful practices and modest changes in workflow can impact the environment and save money.

Small changes in three areas can make a big difference.

The authors looked at three facets of hospital operations with which nursing is intimately involved—linen use, supply use, and waste streams—and demonstrated how small changes in workflow could make a big difference in waste reduction.

In separate initiatives, Wohlford and other staff “project owners” explored and quantified key waste issues at their hospital. They found creative ways to raise staff awareness about the extent of these problems and their impact on both hospital resources and the environment. Then, with simple modifications (and lots of staff education and new signage!), they were able to incorporate more environmentally-sustainable work practices into the daily workflow.

One person’s impact counts as part of a collective effort.

By Sarah Seavey
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