UVM Medical Center project recycles surgical wrap

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Surgery saves lives. It also generates a lot of trash. Investigative reporter Jennifer Costa found out how UVM Medical Center is trying something no other Vermont hospital is to curb the waste.

Peek into any operating room and you'll see a sea of blue. "There's a lot of it," said Monique Citro, with the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Blue wrap draping patients, shielding doctors, and keeping germs from surgical tools. "It's really light fluffy stuff, so it takes up a lot of room in the garbage," Citro said.

This year UVM Medical Center is on target to go through 32,000 pounds of it. It feels a lot like a fabric, but this is actually a form of a plastic. This is just some of the blue wrap left over from one surgery. Multiply that by the 16,000 surgeries that this hospital does every year and this is a lot of waste that could have gone into a landfill.

"In the operating room, we generate so much waste," Citro said. The operating room communications specialist wanted to keep all this polypropeline out the trash, especially since it doesn't biodegrade. But the hospital's waste hauler told her it couldn't be recycled because there was no market for it. "I think I was pretty naïve when I started doing this."

Citro wouldn't give up until she found a recycler to take it -- even then, there were rules. Contaminated blue wrap that touches a patient, blood, or bodily fluids is off limits. The miles of fabric wrapped around surgical instruments is only ok if she removed the tape and labels herself. "I'd come in and spend about two hours of my day doing it," Citro said.

"EVS came along to try to support Mo, so it wasn't just her collecting in the O.R. on her own," said Jen Bergeron with the medical center's environmental services.

Environmental services expanded the recycling effort to the rest of the hospital. More blue wrap meant more incentive for Casella to get creative. "One of the real challenges with this type of material is having enough volume to make it work from a financial standpoint," said company's Michael Casella.

At UVM's warehouse, Casella talked to us about crunching the numbers. This is one week of blue wrap. Each box is 50 pounds. Casella needed to add pick-ups in New Hampshire to collect enough material to entice a buyer who will turn the blue stuff back into medical devices. That doesn't mean this is a bargain for the hospital. It costs almost three times more than sending it to the landfill.

"It is just the right thing to do," Bergeron said.

Casella and UVM recycled 14,000 pounds of blue wrap this year, enough to fill 423 hospital laundry carts. Lined up end to end, that would be the length of four football fields.