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Turning Trash into Treasure

November 15, 2019

With an “act locally, think globally” approach, Overlook is repurposing sterile materials, one blue bag at a time

Tami Ochs, RN, a nurse in Overlook’s Behavioral Health department, is awash in a sea of blue. We’re not talking about tranquil waters or expansive skies. We’re talking about blue wrap, which she’s transforming from trash into treasure.

Surgical blue wrap, used to cover sterile surgical instruments and materials in the operating room, is made of polypropylene, which is lightweight, durable and waterproof – and regrettably nonbiodegradable. Overlook Medical Center uses and discards about 15,000 pounds of this necessary material each year, reports Michael Atanasio, director of Food & Nutrition.

Several months ago, Ochs approached Atanasio and Melissa Bonassisa, leaders of Overlook’s environmentally minded Green Team, with an idea for the hospital’s supply of discarded blue wrap. Using a sewing needle, thread and ingenuity, Ochs demonstrated how she could repurpose the wrap into reusable tote bags. The project quickly took off; the bags are now distributed to patients on the Behavioral Health and surgical floors, and are available for sale in the hospital’s gift shop.

“I’m astounded by the response,” says Ochs. “Everyone seems to be embracing the bags. Patients love them.”

Atanasio praises the project for saving money and for keeping the wrap out of landfills. Over time, he hopes Overlook can find ways to increase production on the blue bags to replace all of the traditional bags for patient belongings hospitalwide. Ochs is looking into other uses for the blue wrap too, like ponchos and sleeping bags.

Bonassisa now refers to herself as the Blue Wrap Gremlin for her role in collecting and dispersing the wrap. “The amount of blue wrap is unbelievable,” she says. “I’ve had to come up with creative storage facilities for it. But when you look at the sheer amount of material you’re getting out of the landfill, you can’t help but feel proud.”

Overlook Medical Center is a recipient of the 2019 Practice Greenhealth Environmental Excellence Award, Practice Greenhealth’s highest honor for hospitals that are leading the industry in all-around sustainability performance. If you can sew and would like to volunteer your time and skills to creating blue bags, send an email to melissa.bonassisa@atlantichealth.org.