Aspirus Medford Hospital's Surgical Team is Up to the Recycling Challenge

Billie Schilling and Lacey Liske weigh soft plastics recycled at Aspirus Medford Hospital.

Soft Plastics Being Safely Purged in the OR, Other Areas

Many of the supplies and tools used in Surgery and Day Surgery are enclosed in flexible plastics to keep them sterile and protected. Flexible plastic is generally not accepted by traditional recycling programs because it can catch in sorting machines and is typically too dirty after transport for recycling. So, how does a facility avoid sending these plastics to landfills?

At Aspirus Medford Hospital, Surgical Services Registered Nurse Billie Schilling is championing an eco-friendly initiative to confront this issue as part of Aspirus Health’s Sustainability Initiative and the hospital’s local Green Team. Since July 2020, Aspirus Medford’s Surgery and Day Surgery teams have collaborated to collect and recycle just over 300 pounds of flexible plastics with the goal of recycling them into a park bench. Other departments have followed suit and started their own recycling collections. 

Dubbed “Greening the OR,” the hospital’s flexible plastic recycling program is being done in partnership with the Trex Company’s community challenge for recycling plastic bags and film. Once Aspirus Medford recycles 500 pounds of plastic, Trex will donate a park bench made of recycled plastic to the hospital.

Lacey Liske, one of Billie’s colleagues in the operating room, read about the Trex challenge while flipping through a magazine one day. And, at Billie’s urging, Aspirus Medford’s Green Team agreed the OR would be a great place to start this project.

“Everybody has just done a really good job, and it’s kind of become our norm now,” said Billie, who celebrates 15 years at Aspirus Medford in August. “We’re all working toward this park bench, and we can’t wait to get to the 500 pounds.”

Five hundred pounds is equal to about 40,500 plastic bags. That’s a lot of plastic kept out of landfills.

“A lot of our supplies come with soft plastic on them, and all of our surgical packs come in a soft plastic. So, we’re able to recycle all of that,” Billie said.

Flexible plastics also have been diverted from the Aspirus Medford cafeteria and break rooms. What’s more, Aspirus Medford’s resourceful recyclers have been diligent at home, gathering their grocery and other plastic bags to bring to work to drop into large bins furnished by Trex and kept in a storage room. At the end of each month, Billie weighs what’s been collected, charts the total and reports it to Trex.

The collected plastics for the month are then taken to local retail stores to be recycled properly.

“I would say there’s probably a couple champions in each department who are excited about this recycling. I’m probably a geeky recycler,” she added with a laugh. “I get excited about it, so hopefully that rubs off on other people.”

Billie’s passion for caring for the environment and recycling extends to her family.

“I just think it’s great for the earth,” she explained. “It’s something I do at home, and it’s something I try to instill in my three kids. I know the operating room is one of the biggest makers of waste here at the hospital because we have so many supplies. I just feel if there’s something we can do to decrease that going into the landfill, that’s great.”

Billie is optimistic Aspirus Medford will fulfill the rest of its big goal in the coming months, gaining a notable victory for the Medford community.

“The biggest positive benefits of doing this are environmental,” Billie said. “Every pound that we are recycling, we are not putting in a landfill, which I think pretty much affects everybody. A bonus at the end of it is getting a nice park bench that everybody can enjoy at the hospital.”

Aspirus Health began its Aspirus Sustainability Initiative in 2018. Among its goals is to reduce the health system’s carbon footprint by 80% and its energy costs by $4 million by 2030, and to be a leader within Practice Greenhealth, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to environmental sustainability in health care.

Aspirus Medford’s Green Team is made up of 20 team members with representation from every department at the hospital and Aspirus Medford Clinic. In addition to the flexible plastic recycling program, the Green Team has taken the lead in adding more recycling containers outside the Aspirus Medford entrance and in reducing food waste in the cafeteria with the addition of a compost bin.

Photo: Registered Nurses Billie Schilling (pictured left) and Lacey Liske weigh soft plastic recycled at Aspirus Medford Hospital.