By: Allison Roe
As the largest employer in Minnesota, Mayo Clinic has a lot of influence on the local community, and also is in the state and national spotlight, whether for medical reasons or not. Because health care is an incredibly resource-heavy industry, Mayo is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to sustainability. But the clinic is making giant steps in practicing environmental responsibility through a robust use of their Recycling Center and initiatives set forth by the Facilities Operations department along with Mayo Clinic’s Green Committee.
For example, take the 2011 goal to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020. As of October 2017, the clinic exceeded that goal, said Brett Gorden, section head of facilities operations (utility operations, energy management, and infrastructure systems engineering). “Now we’ll try to figure out what would be the best goal for moving forward,” he said. Inevitably, the next step will include making energy efficient choices when building and renovating, but also trying to engage the entire staff with making smarter choices, like turning out lights when leaving at night, and not using space heaters (we recommend coffee, tea, or a few extra layers if you get chilly). “A lot of things are very little,” said Gorden, “but when 40,000 people are all doing them, like turning your lights off, it really makes a difference.”
Another way Mayo is doing right by the earth is by intercepting thousands of pounds of materials every day that would be sent to a landfill and recycling them. The Mayo Clinic Recycling Center at 515 3rd Ave. SE goes way beyond recycling standard products like glass, cardboard, and paper. They recycle all of those, along with aluminum, metals, batteries, fluorescent tubes, x-ray films, appliances, electronics, lead aprons, surgical blue wrap, 14 different types of plastic, and more.
There are 11 full-time employees at the Recycling Center who rotate shifts to keep the recycling efforts moving almost 24 hours a day. While there is still some automation in the building, many of the recycling processes are still very labor intensive: sorting plastic types, loading cardboard into balers, sorting paper types, batteries, metals, and electronics.
Recycling Coordinator Glen Goodsell knows the ins and outs of every aspect of the Recycling Center, an old lab that’s been converted into a hub of environmental activity.
Take surgical blue wrap, for example. This polypropylene plastic wrap is used for sterilization of surgical instruments. The items are opened and, prior to April 2017, the blue wrap was discarded. Now, it’s collected in bags and sent to the recycling center.
“We open that bag up, make sure there’s no bad stuff in there, and bale it up. …We’re doing about two bales a week, almost 1,200 pounds,” said Goodsell. The bales are ultimately sold to a company that melts the plastic, pelletizes it, and turns it back into polypropylene.
The same goes for all the Styrofoam they bale. Coolers used to transport samples to the clinic are baled, sold, and turned right back into Styrofoam. This Styrofoam is different than what’s used in food services; that Styrofoam cannot be recycled.
While recycling is wonderful, it is the last of the three R’s we all learned in school, notes Amanda Holloway, sustainability project leader and section head facilities operations (waste management and recycling). First come reduce and reuse, two concepts that can be overlooked when focused on recycling. “Health care is a really resource-intensive industry,” said Holloway. Reduction isn’t always possible, but reusing is.
Again, look at the surgical blue wrap as an example. A problem was identified: lots of blue wrap was being thrown away. Part of the solution was to determine if the plastic could be recycled (it could) and if there was a buyer for it (there was), but the surgical services and anesthesia groups also found reusable hard sided cases to use for sterilization. “That helps us reduce the amount of blue wrap we’re using,” said Holloway. “It’s a partnership.”
Research labs recently started recycling all kinds of plastic items, noted Goodsell, resulting in almost 1,000 pounds of plastic being diverted from Mayo’s waste stream every single day. Much of the plastic is ground up and sent east on Highway 14 to Envirolastech in St. Charles, where it’s turned into plastic lumber products. Other recycled pieces get sent elsewhere in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and beyond.
2017 was a benchmark year for Mayo Clinic. “Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus recycled a total of 6,373 tons,” said Holloway. “Additionally, 150 tons of linens and medical supplies were collected and donated to a local charitable organization.”
By investing time and resources into recycling, and also in energy reduction, reducing and reusing, Mayo Clinic is sending a message to anyone paying attention: sustainability efforts are worth it.