Steeling the scene
In 2019, SGH began to convert high volume, simple instruments and procedure surgical sets to disposable ones, which are mostly made of low quality stainless steel. The overall cost of single-use implements – purchase and storage – is lower. The change also frees up highly skilled staff from having to clean these to focus on processing more complex and technologically advanced instruments.
However, this new direction resulted in a high amount of disposable instruments being discarded as biohazard waste. This got Deputy Director of Nursing Goh Meh Meh to think about recycling them. ‘We knew our Environmental Services (ES) unit recycles items like cardboard and lotion bottles. So why not single-use stainless steel instruments?”
Subsequently, DDN Goh approached Deputy Director of ES, Lee Ewe Choon. The ES team then gathered a sample of the instruments and sourced for a recycling partner who would be able to process the items.
Champions of fine mettle
DDN Goh is from the Major Operating Theatre (MOT) and oversees the Sterile Supplies Unit (SSU), which cleans all surgical instruments after use.
She started a workgroup involving other departments that also used such single-use instruments, such as Nursing (inpatient wards), Specialist Outpatient Clinics, Operating Theatres and Department of Emergency Medicine. Infection Control also had a critical role to play in determining which items could be decontaminated safely enough for recycling. The group discussed workflows for collection, processing and educating staff on recycling. Nurse Champions from different units were appointed to help advocate the cause among colleagues.
Senior Operations Executive Wendy Phng revealed that for ES, the challenging part was communicating the new workflow to colleagues like housekeepers on how to collect the instruments from the various departments to bring them to a waste holding area. Tow trucks then sent the collected instruments to SSU at SingHealth Tower for washing before being collected for recycling. Once staff understood the environmental impact of reducing waste, they accepted the idea readily.
For the MOT, DDN Goh also worked on getting buy-in from the nurses. ‘We were so used to discarding these instruments. So the challenge was in explaining to our OT nurses the why and how of the recycling,” she adds.
Getting abroadDespite the additional work of processing instruments instead of discarding them, Senior Nurse Manager Amelia Tay and Assistant Nurse Clinician Ng Choon Luan from SSU found it fairly easy to get staff on board the idea. “There is no need to sort or pack these disposal instruments, unlike the multi-use ones. So the process is quite straight forward. We just have to get them decontaminated and auto washed, to render them safe for the recycling vendor to collect and handle.”
A sample of the steel instruments sent for recycling
When the project got off the ground last year, 20 to 50kg of metal was collected every month for recycling. Since then the team have continued to bring on board more departments who also use disposable steel instruments. As a result, in March 2022, the amount of single-use steel instruments collected weighed in at a hefty 600kg!
Thanks to the efforts of the team, SGH now recycles about 10 cars’ worth of steel a year.
Some fun facts• 550kg of steel amounts to an average light weight car. • The metal recycled by the vendor is exported to an overseas smelter which extracts the base metals as raw materials to be used for manufacturing. • Metal can be recycled continuously without losing its properties. • Recycling metal reduces environmental harm associated with metal mining and production.
Think something your department uses could be recycled? Drop Wendy an email here: email@example.com
Are you also passionate about sustainability? Join the Let’s GO GREEN Today! group on Workplace (for staff only).
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