Hospitals call a code 'green' to be environmental stewards

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More than 30 leading health-industry trade groups, consumer advocates and health-care companies are meeting in Chicago through Thursday to advance "the greening of health care in America."

In what is expected to be the first of a series of meetings, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association has organized the event to establish various educational initiatives and shared business practices for hospitals and the companies they work with to reduce waste, conserve energy and pursue other "green" initiatives.

"[Hospitals] are trying to be more environmentally friendly in their communities," said Mary Pittman, president of the Chicago-based Health Research & Educational Trust, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association.

Hospitals generate more than 6,500 tons of waste a day on average, according to Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, a New Hampshire-based non-profit group that advocates for environmentally responsible health-care practices. Solid waste makes up more than 70 percent of that total, the group said

Among those with representatives at the meeting at the Chicago Center for Green Technology: the American Nurses Association, Lake Forest-based hospital products-maker Hospira Inc., the Cleveland Clinic and California-based hospital operator Kaiser Permanente.

Pittman said the meeting will allow executives to discuss best practices, find innovative ways to reduce waste and to "make the hospital a better environmental partner."

Some hospitals, for example, have begun to use certain kinds of paving material in their parking lots to allow water to go back into aquifers in the ground rather than storm sewers. In addition, more hospitals are replacing certain medical equipment with mercury-free products and equipment.

Medical-device companies, too, are working on green initiatives. Last year, for example, Baxter International Inc. of Deerfield and Hospira moved further away from using polyvinyl chloride in some medication-delivery products.

The companies launched new products in the wake of criticism from consumer groups and others that PVC plastic can be dangerous for patients and can damage the environment when it is incinerated with other medical waste. At the time, the companies said PVC increasingly cannot be used in packaging for some drugs, particularly certain products derived from biotechnology.

Hospira launched a PVC-free intravenous solution bag, called Visiv, which also is unique in that it eliminates the plastic overwrap that covers IV bags during shipping. Overwrap helps prevent moisture evaporation and keeps medication concentrated. Hospira said it will be eliminating 40 percent to 70 percent of overwrap waste, which hospitals would have to incinerate.

Baxter is launching its Aviva line of IV solutions that are packaged in containers made of non-PVC material.

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Hear Bruce Japsen on WBBM-AM 780 at 6:21 p.m. and 10:22 p.m. Mondays and 11:20 a.m. Saturdays.

bjapsen@tribune.com

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