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Reducing plastic bag waste in the ED

Tracy Waldron, a porter ward aid at Mount Saint Joseph Hospital’s Emergency Department, was inspired to reduce soft plastics in her department after the discontinuation of soft plastic recycling in 2014 and recent news reports of plastics in landfills and oceans.

Part of Tracy’s job is to ensure the department is well supplied and that things are organized for doctors and nurses, and as a porter ward aid she has the opportunity to initiate special projects—like swapping soft plastic garment bags for paper ones.

Tracy sourced a paper alternative to the plastic garment bags given to patients, getting support from her operations leader and seeking input from the clinical nurse leader. Then, she informed Stores that the department would no longer be ordering the soft plastic bags. Stores ensured that the re-order number was changed in the supply room.

One of the Stores employees became a partner in helping make the switch from plastic to paper garment bags in Endoscopy, and Tracy has initiated the switch in Radiology, too.

The project hasn’t had any significant challenges. One reason for this may be that Emergency is a small department and Tracy used face-to-face communication to let colleagues know about the switch to paper bags. Tracy suggests that departments undertaking similar projects implement changes as a trial, and that they move ahead with making change and deal with issues as they come up, not beforehand.

Approximately 8,750 soft plastic bags each year are no longer being disposed in landfill. Paper bags are recyclable as “mixed paper” and therefore diverted from landfill.