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Health Care/Hospital Recycling and Waste Management for Blue Wrap

“Blue Wrap” plastic recycling opportunities in hospitals/medical centers.

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This article provides information on “Blue Wrap” recycling opportunities in hospitals/medical centers. Blue Wrap recycling programs at three medical centers are highlighted below.

HEALTH CARE - What Is Blue Wrap Recycling?

Blue wrap is a highly specialized polypropylene plastic product used as a durable, sterile protective cover to wrap and store sterilized instruments trays in the operating rooms. In this article, three medical centers are highlighted showcasing their efforts to divert or reduce the amount of Blue Wrap going into California landfills.

In December 2006, the Mills-Peninsula Health Services (MPHS) Peninsula Medical Center campus in Burlingame made a switch from using Blue Wrap to hard cases for containing instruments and supplies for sterilization prior to use in surgery. They are currently only using Blue Wrap for wrapping orthopedic joints. According to the Sutter Health Contracts Office, Peninsula Medical Center used an estimated 14,475 pounds of Blue Wrap during 2006 at a cost of $35,962. MPHS spent $34,987 to purchase steel hard cases (see the photo below) that have allowed them to reduce Blue Wrap use by an estimated 70 percent.

Advantages of Blue Wrap Recycling

The following advantages were noted by the supervisor of the Central Sterile Processing when using the hard cases instead of Blue Wrap:
  • Generated less waste, which is more environmentally sound and provides large cost savings for decreased waste removal
  • The hard cases make it easier to track instruments
  • The facility does not have to provide dust covers for the hard cases as they do for the Blue Wrapped instruments
  • Potential reduction in ergonomic wrapping injuries
  • Staff do not have to be taken away from other assignments to assist in wrapping activities
  • No damaged wrapped equipment and supplies requiring re-wrapping and re-sterilization
  • Improved set preparation time spent wrapping items versus locking the hard case
  • In times of emergencies, the facility does not have to depend on delivery of Blue Wrap, but can continue surgeries uninterrupted

Estimated savings with Blue Wrap

Central Sterile Processing estimated that previous results ranged from 5 to 10 torn packages per week when using Blue Wrap. The cost for re-wrapping and re-sterilizing damaged packages was placed at $100 per package. The use of hard cases eliminates this problem and conservatively saves an estimated $26,000 per year (52 weeks X 5 packages/week @$100/package to reprocess).

The reduction of 70 percent usage of Blue Wrap estimated to be achieved by switching to the hard cases amounts to an annual savings of $25,173.40 using 2006 Blue Wrap purchasing data for Peninsula Medical Center. The $34,987 spent on purchasing the hard cases would have a return on investment (ROI) based upon the following calculation of: $34,987($26,000 + $25,173.40) X 12 = 8.2 months.

Additional savings will be achieved in the reduction of 5.07 tons of Blue Wrap from the solid waste stream per year. A specific dollar amount can not be assigned to the solid waste savings because the waste hauler serving Mills-Peninsula Health Services charges for each “pull” of the drop box disposal unit, as opposed to a fee based on the pounds of waste disposed.

It is not uncommon for a disposal fee amounting to $420 per ton to be charged to hospitals in the Bay Area by their solid waste disposal companies. At that rate, an additional savings of $2,100 could be anticipated for the reduction of Blue Wrap from the solid waste stream.

Mills-Peninsula Health Services’ ambulatory care facility in San Mateo

Mills-Peninsula includes an outpatient surgery center, which will be converting to hard cases in early 2008.

Sutter Health’s Environmental Risk Team has been working with the California Integrated Waste Management Board to develop new opportunities to recycle Blue Wrap. While recycling is a positive environmental improvement step, source reduction is an even better action to take. This study found that hard cases provide a successful alternative to using Blue Wrap in Central Sterile Processing. The advantages outlined in this study should be evaluated for implementation at other Sutter Health affiliates.

For more information on Mills-Peninsula Health Services’ switch to hard cases from Blue Wrap and the new opportunities they have found to recycle Blue Wrap, contact Gail Lee at (650) 696-5717 or

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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