In a bid to reduce the use of wasteful plastic products, doctors Jonathan Eisen and Christian Mewaldt of Massachusetts General Hospital performed a 24-hour audit of the trash produced by one unit of their hospital — and their findings are already prompting change, Stat News reported.
In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the two doctors set apart a day in August to collect all the trash from the 21st floor of Phillips House, which is a 20-room inpatient area of MGH. Instead of being thrown into a dumpster, they had all the garbage brought to a lounge that had been completely covered to protect the walls, ceiling, and floor.
There, Eisen and Mewaldt, wearing protective gear, sorted through the trash to discover how much garbage the unit was producing in a single day and what items made up most of the waste, to see where MGH could cut back.
This wasn’t Mewaldt’s first time pushing for less wasteful, more eco-friendly practices in the hospital. Earlier, he had also convinced the administration to start a composting program in the cafeteria and ban styrofoam. Entire cities and states have also enacted bans against this material for both health and environmental reasons.
Eisen admired Mewalt’s efforts to make MGH a more healthy, cost-effective, and eco-friendly establishment, and the two began discussing future waste reduction projects — which is what led to the two of them spending 10 hours counting the hospital’s daily trash, Stat News explained.
What they found was astounding. One individual unit, made up of 20 single-patient rooms, had produced over 370 pounds of waste — most of it plastic, which is difficult to recycle. That meant there was an average of about 18 pounds of waste being generated per patient, per day.
“As they kept coming in, we were like, ‘Oh my God, another, you know, dumpster of waste,’” Eisen told Stat News.
“While we were doing it and feeling like we were making some progress, just more and more and more wagons full of trash came,” Mewaldt added. ”It certainly felt like it was just dumping down on our heads.”
Eisen and Mewalt zeroed in on the 559 disposable hospital gowns, which made a pile taller than Mewaldt. Thanks to their work, the hospital is in talks about switching back to reusable gowns, which can be used and washed 75 to 100 times each — saving money and reducing waste.
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