BRUNSWICK — Mid Coast Hospital has launched a new recycling program that turns plastic waste from its operating rooms into park benches, trash cans and other items.

Described by Mid Coast as the first of its kind in Maine, the program targets blue sterile wrap that’s primarily used to protect medical supplies and surgical instruments from contamination. The bulky wrap is clean when it’s tossed into the trash after being removed from surgical tools, but can’t be reused.

Blue wrap is one of the biggest contributors to waste at Mid Coast and many other hospitals, said Molly Gardner, linen and waste management aide at Mid Coast.

Until now, Mid Coast discarded the nonbiodegradable wrap with its regular trash because no recycling programs for the material existed in the region. It wasn’t feasible for the 92-bed hospital to ship the waste long distances to coordinate with recycling programs run by hospitals in other states.

Under the new program, the blue wrap at Mid Coast is recycled and eventually melted down into pellets that are repurposed to make plastic items such as garbage cans and park benches, Gardner said.

“The more we can get out of our trash stream the better,” she said. “Environmentally, it is very important that hospitals don’t pollute the very communities of people that they’re trying to keep healthy.”

Scott Austin, who oversees medical waste for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said he wasn’t aware of any other blue wrap recycling programs in Maine, though others could exist.

“Blue wrap has been a very challenging material to recycle. Some of the larger hospitals go through an incredible amount of that stuff,” he said.

Mid Coast’s recycling program also includes other items made from the same material, such as surgical masks and disposable bonnets worn in the operating room, Gardner said.

Now, Mid Coast bags up blue wrap separately. The waste is then boxed and shipped via UPS to Pine Tree Waste and Casella Recycling, the hospital’s waste collection service.

Mid Coast doesn’t produce a high enough volume of blue wrap to justify Casella sending a truck to pick it up, Gardner said, so the hospital hopes to persuade other hospitals to join the program to make it more cost-effective, she said.

“If we can encourage other hospitals in Maine to jump on board and also collect their blue wrap, we could change the picture,” Gardner said.

After Casella receives the waste, it’s sent to a handling company owned by Kimberly Clark, which supplies Mid Coast with blue wrap, then distributed to reprocessing plants.

“Mid Coast is doing a great job,” said Ralph Precopio, territory manager for Pine Tree Waste and Casella Recycling. “Since the new program began, we have already seen a measurable difference in the reduction of waste.”

Mid Coast is just beginning to collect figures on how much waste will be recycled and the amount of money the new program could save, Gardner said. Under its zero-sort recycling program for other waste, Mid Coast recycles trash at an eighth of the cost of throwing it away, she said. Significant savings could result from recycling blue waste after enough other hospitals join the program to make truck pickup practical for Casella, Gardner said.

Mid Coast is now expanding the recycling program to other departments beyond the operating room. The hospital is also exploring purchasing a baler to compact the blue wrap waste, which would make transporting it more economical, she said.

“We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do and trying to spread the word and get other hospitals on board,” Gardner said.

Sidebar Elements

Molly Gardner, left, Mid Coast Hospital’s linen and waste management aide, and registered nurse Jana Hentz-McDorr dressed up in blue-wrap items recently to educate the Brunswick hospital’s staff about a new recycling program.

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