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From PVC to Playground: Improving Sustainability in Health Care

In February 2020, Northwestern Memorial Hospital engaged with Baxter to launch a first-in-the-nation pilot program to optimize recycling of IV bags. The program started in the Surgical Services Department and recently expanded to Labor and Delivery.

PVC-based medical waste is widely recyclable, and recycling initiatives play a key role in minimizing environmental impact. The pilot program at Northwestern Medicine has been successful thanks to the collaboration of several teams including Nursing, Environmental Services (EVS) and Supply Chain.

“Everyone is dedicated to the cause,” says Liz Cumpian, BSN, RN, CPAN, CAPA, a perioperative nurse navigator in Surgical Services. “This is not just a project. People really believe in it because we are doing the right thing.”

After IV bags are used, they are placed in designated recycling bins on the units. Then, EVS team members bring the bins to the dock for Baxter to pick up and recycle. The recycled PVC is used in playground equipment and playmats.

In the first three years of the program, teams have recycled more than 137,000 IV bags, or 7,000 pounds of PVC. This equates to saving 5,200 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of planting 144 trees.

“People think a recycling program is easy, but it’s really not,” says Cumpian. “It has been a long project, but so worthwhile. This will impact my grandchildren. I want this to be part of my legacy at Northwestern Medicine.”