The MGH Institute of Health Professions Center for Climate Change, Climate Justice and Health hosted its latest Grand Rounds webinar, “Inpatient Medicine Waste Audit and the Plastic Pandemic,” co-sponsored by the MGH Center for the Environment and Health, Feb. 16.
When Earth Day comes around each spring, people often look to the “three Rs” for ways to help the environment – reduce, reuse and recycle. Climate experts emphasize that while these three actions are a great place to start, it requires action beyond Earth Day to make a long-lasting impact. For MGHers, it’s easy to make those environmentally friendly choices at the hospital every day.
In recent years, many MGH departments have transitioned to more sustainable practices. The Department of Nutrition and Food Services, for example, has increased their plant-based options at on-campus eateries. Eat Street Café now offers a 14% plant-based menu, and Riverside Café’s is 32% plant based.
Wynne Armand, MD, associate director of the MGH Center for the Environment and Health, explains that choosing plant-based options over meat products benefits both the environment and people’s overall health.
“Livestock agriculture is responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.,” she said. “So, eating a lot of red meat not only increases mortality, but it also does a lot of damage to the planet.”
The Department of Nutrition and Food Services has also provided more filtered water filling stations for reusable bottles, continued composting food waste and switched to antibiotic-free chicken. In 2022, 48% of the department’s non-food items like plates and utensils will be compostable.
The Perioperative Sustainability Committee and MGH Environmental Services have also taken on the challenge of starting a recycling program for some materials that are not biodegradable. “Blue wrap," a material that covers instruments in the operating room (OR), currently makes up close to 7% of all hospital waste, according to Practice Greenhealth.
“Blue wrap usually ends up in landfills,” Armand says. “But the MGH has launched a program to recycle blue wrap by partnering with vendors who collect tons of our blue wrap and repurpose it into other products like reusable tote bags. This effort is a testament to the collaboration between the OR staff and Environmental Services.”
Staff also have the ability make a difference beyond the MGH. For those who work directly with patients, Armand recommends encouraging them to bike or walk to appointments rather than drive and to add more fruits, nuts and vegetables to their diets.
“These things have co-benefits,” Armand says. “It’s important to explain that what helps their health also helps the planet."
This year, Earth Day will be celebrated on Friday, April 22. Staff are invited to stop by the Center for the Environment and Health’s information table across from Eat Street Café between April 25 and 29 to learn more about climate-related topics such as extreme weather, food and nutrition, pollution and waste. Grand rounds webinars related to the environment, climate and health will also be held on April 20 and May 18 and are open to all staff.