How Vancouver General Hospital Improved its Battery Collections by 20% in Just One Year

Walk into any hospital and within minutes you will see battery-powered medical devices, whether it’s an oral thermometer, defibrillator, infusion pump or otoscope. But what happens to the batteries hidden in those portable devices once they lose their charge?VGH

At Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), the largest hospital in British Columbia, the solution is the Call2Recycle boxes that are found on every floor, including nursing stations, intensive care and other high-use areas.

The boxes symbolize how far this program has evolved. A decade ago, a single employee began collecting used batteries in a box next to his desk. “We started with a handful of people who had a passion to make recycling part of our day,” said Vaun Malo, manager of Biomedical Engineering, VGH/UBC. “Our program matured, thanks to employees who wanted to make it work.”

Don Ta Battery Recyle

Don Ta, a biomedical engineer at VGH, stacks up batterries-filled Call2Recycle boxes ready to be shipped for recycling.

In the 10 years since, battery recycling has been embraced into the hospital’s culture. “People here don’t throw batteries in the regular waste bin anymore,” said Malo. “They get an uneasy feeling if they can’t recycle them.”

The dedication has paid off. In 2014, VGH increased its battery collections 20%, from 3,181 pounds (1,443 kg) in 2013 to 3,948 pounds (1,791 kg) in 2014. Last year’s collections included 730 pounds (331 kg) of rechargeable batteries and 3,218 pounds (1,460 kg) of non-rechargeable (alkaline and lithium) batteries. VGH is on track to collect a similar volume in 2015.

“Vancouver General Hospital epitomizes how healthcare authorities can truly embrace recycling as part of their corporate culture,” said Kristen Romilly, director, Western Canada Region, Call2Recycle Canada. “By making recycling an integral part of the everyday routine of its 16,000 physicians and staff, the hospital is able to make a real impact on the environment for its community.”

Simple and Easy

The simple program works because it’s a team effort. Physicians, nurses and staff deposit both used alkaline and rechargeable batteries into the nearby Call2Recycle box. When a box is full, housekeeping brings it to Malo, then takes a new box to replace the old one. The used batteries are stored in a locked, caged area. Every two months, Malo ships about 45 boxes of batteries (about 1,300 pounds or 590 kg) to Call2Recycle. “We have to stay on top of the flow or it gets overwhelming,” said Malo.

BC Greencare, the company that oversees the 26 hospitals in British Columbia’s lower mainland, also takes an active role in recycling. “We have a go-green initiative that includes a committee with representatives from every hospital in the lower mainland. We meet every three months to discuss how we can improve our programs. We talk about battery recycling–everything from where to locate boxes, how to encourage more recycling and how to discourage medical waste disposal in battery boxes,” said Malo, who works closely with the VGH recycling coordinator to run the program.

Malo attributed employee teamwork, dedication and education as the major factors contributing to their success. “Communication is also key. We bring together biomed, housekeeping, and maintenance. They all work hard to make sure recycling is done properly. Now the program practically runs itself,” he added.

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