Earth Day 2018: Leading by Example

More than $1 million worth of single-use plastic sharp containers used to store and dispose of needles, syringes and biomedical waste ends up in landfills every year from Montreal area hospitals alone.

Throw in another half-ton of cardboard packaging produced to deliver the disposable containers  and you’re left with a trail of waste with limited lifespan passing through our hospitals.

April 22nd is Earth Day and the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is doing its part by being committed to best environmental practices and eliminating excessive waste. This commitment has led to a complete overhaul of how the MUHC disposes of used needles. The yellow, red, white and blue plastic containers you may have noticed in  patients’ rooms, clinics or operating rooms are part of a reusable sharp container pilot-project program that is reshaping the way Quebec’s healthcare institutions handle these prickly objects.

Joe Derocher, Manager of Enviro-Housekeeping Operations
Joe Derocher, Manager of Enviro-Housekeeping Operations

After five years of market research, discussions with SigmaSanté (a non-profit organization representing healthcare institutions in the Laval and Montreal regions whose mission is to manage the group purchasing of products and services) and a full audit of  more than 1,800 disposal sites spread across the Glen site, the MUHC’s decision to adopt the Daniels Sharpsmart reusable sharps containers has benefitted nearly every clinical department and will save the MUHC tens of thousands of dollars.

“What satisfies me is that it’s rare to be able to successfully put in place  a new program that touches 100 per cent of clinical areas,” said Enviro-Housekeeping Operations Manager Joe Derocher. “There were so many different elements that were new to us when we took on this project that I don’t think we fully understood how many aspects we would have to deal with. But I can honestly say that we’ve achieved our goals and surpassed our expectations. We’ve had benefits across the board.”

Although this project was launched at the Glen site, the plan is for the re-usable containers to populate all of the MUHC sites before 2019. This type of re-usable container will also likely be adopted by other Montreal area hospitals after SigmaSanté quickly came to see the benefit of the MUHC’s decision to go green on needle disposing and is working to offer up the option to other healthcare institutions

The MUHC has been intent on reducing its waste footprint since building the new Glen site.

The Glen was the first hospital in Quebec to be certified LEED New Construction by the Canada Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the most widely used third-party verification for green buildings in the country. Now, the MUHC is seeking LEED  for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance certification. In addition to continuing to adhere to the most rigorous environmental building standards, this certification requires the MUHC to align its day-to-day operations with environmental best practices. Many of these practices have already been outlined in new MUHC operational policies, including ones for Waste Management, Green Cleaning, Construction, Renovation and Demolition Waste and Sustainable Purchasing. The MUHC Glen site is on track to achieve LEED-EB certification by November 2019. 

With over 40,000  sharp containers being disposed of at the Glen site every year, creating a re-usable program seemed like a natural next step. The needles themselves are disposed of by autoclave, a method of disinfection and sterilization using high temperatures and pressure to kill microorganisms and spores and render the needles non-infectious.

The multi-coloured containers – nicknamed “Skittles” by Joe and his team – can be re-used up to 500 times, need just a glance to know when they are full, are leak and spill-proof and have a bar code allowing for tracing in the event of degradation. Being tamper-proof is crucial in relation to having the Children’s hospital in the mix. They are also easier to store.

“In addition, the reusable Daniels Sharpmart containers are the safest in the industry. The other containers were prone to needle stick injuries,” Joe said from his office on the S2 level of the Glen site. “So far, we haven’t heard any complaints so we are very satisfied.”

For Joe, there is pleasure in knowing this project could spur on greener practices across the province.

“By using a reusable system, the overall environmental impact is large, especially if other hospitals get on board,” Joe said. “We certainly didn’t start the process but in terms of the Montreal market we are pioneers and now SigmaSanté is using all the work we have done with our pilot project to offer the same system to other hospitals. There certainly is a sense of satisfaction knowing we provoked this movement.”