Recycling Unused Medical Supplies to Help Save Lives and the Planet

CHICAGO - In an effort to "go green," eco-conscious medical students and hospital staff at Rush University Medical Center have started Rush Remedy, a medical supply recovery and recycling program that collects unused medical supplies and equipment and provides them to overseas hospitals and clinics-in-need. 

Today, the volunteers of this grassroots movement, which started in January 2008, have collected and donated over 12,000 pounds of unused medical supplies such as surgical packs, surgical gloves, gauze, bandages, sutures, and catheters. 

Each year in the United States, 2,000 tons or $200 million worth of unused medical supplies that are rare and valuable in some other parts of the world are disposed of. 

"This waste represents much more than an unnecessary burden to landfills or a financial loss incurred by hospitals," said Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer and faculty adviser for Rush Remedy.  "When viewed in contrast to the severe shortages of medical and surgical supplies for hospitals in developing nations, this excess illustrates the need for a nation-wide system of material recovery and reuse."

Hospitals across the country maintain a surplus of supplies as a cautionary measure when preparing for an operations. With the medical supply recycling program at Rush, any overstock that might not be used before the expiration date is donated.  Also, any older hospital equipment that has been replaced with new equipment can be refurbished and donated as well.  

"Now these materials that normally would be incinerated are being put to good use," said Dr. Ansell. "We are collecting things in such a fashion that there is no risk of infection."

"We collect about 2,000 pounds of unused medical supplies every month and ship them in 40-ft. containers to clinics and hospitals throughout the world," said Rebecca Free, a third year Rush medical student and one of the program founders.  "Word is spreading at Rush, so the unused medical supplies we are collecting also are being provided to Rush physicians and residents going on international medical missionary trips."

Rush's medical students collect, box and ship all the medical supplies from the medical center's warehouse and send them to an Atlanta-based organization called MedShare that ships the supplies to the clinics and hospitals in other countries. 

Rush Remedy follows a strict protocol and guidelines developed by Remedy Inc., a group of health care experts promoting the nationwide practice of recovery of unused surgical supplies in order to provide international medical relief while reducing solid medical waste from U.S. hospitals.    

"Our mission is to promote medical supply recovery and donation in Chicago because it's not only good for the environment and cuts hospital costs dramatically, but it helps those in need," said Free.

In March 2008, the medical student group became a Rush Community Service Initiatives Program.

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About Rush Community Service Initiatives Program

Rush has developed programs to expose students to the myriad public health disparities in the Chicago area, while also providing valuable services to disadvantaged communities.  The Rush Community Service Initiatives Program (RCSIP) helps create a network of ongoing community service programs in which Rush medical students volunteer with attending physicians from Rush.  Although student participation in RCSIP is strictly voluntary, and students do not receive academic credit for the involvement, approximately 90 percent of Rush Medical College students volunteer in one or more activities.  The hope is that students exposed to such diverse populations and settings will become more culturally competent as providers, which will serve them well as future physicians.