A Greener Cottage


Hospitals have a noble mission to care for the sick, treat the injured  and bring new babies into the world.


But the healthcare facilities also have a long history as top garbage producers, generating vast amounts of paper, plastic, food and toxic waste that end up clogging landfills. 


Over the past decade, the industry has made great strides in reversing its unhealthy impact on the environment. In 1998, the American Hospital Association set goals to reduce hospital waste by 50 percent by 2010.


Ahead of schedule, Cottage met the AHA goal:
Reducing hospital landfill waste by 50%.
Now the City goal is within reach.

Cottage Health System has achieved that goal in just eight years, through the efforts of environmentally-conscious employees who have made it their passion to create “a greener Cottage.”


The goal of a greener Cottage is to improve health services and administrative practices in an ecologically sustainable manner, without lowering patient safety or care standards. 


One of the biggest impacts on the environment is trash going into landfills. All across the nation, landfills are reaching their limits for holding garbage. In the Santa Barbara area, the Tajiguas Landfill is expected to reach maximum capacity by 2020 and will be closed.  


Eight years ago, the City of Santa Barbara realized that it needed to change its waste disposal habits quickly, because city residents were sending 70 percent of all garbage to the landfill. Only 30 percent of waste was being recycled. 


The City set a goal to reverse those numbers: the aim was to reduce landfill waste to 30 percent and to increase recycling to 70 percent.  Cottage has this ambitious goal within its reach. After working for years to pump up recycling, Cottage significantly reduced its solid waste. In 2009, only 35 percent of its waste was sent to the landfill.


Recycling at Cottage increased by tenfold over the last decade—from 82,000 pounds recycled in 2000 to food nearly 1 million pounds last year.


Ruben Cosio, director of Hospitality Services and chair of the Environmental Sustainability Committee at Cottage, explains the major steps that led to the recycling turnaround. 



What Cottage is doing to reduce, reuse, and recycle

 •     Recycling centers are located at all elevator landings at hospitals
 •     Reprocessing (sterilizing and then reusing) is being practiced for certain products, such as sharps containers, catheters, forceps, scalpels, scissors, graspers, tourniquet cuffs
 •     Santa Barbara Cottage and Goleta Valley Cottage hospitals have recycling / composting centers in the cafeterias
 •     Replacing Styrofoam serveware and to-go containers with an eco-friendly line that is plant-based and can be placed in composting or recycling bins
 •   Buying local, organic produce
 •     Making filtered water available in cafeterias to reduce bottled water use.Using online surveys and weekly cafeteria menus for staff, and using online office supply orders to reduce paper waste
 •     Using hospital cleaning and disinfecting products that are free of toxic chemicals
  •     Recycling obsolete computer monitors and other electronic items
 •     Looking for environmentally friendly products that use minimal packaging and contain no mercury, latex, harmful chemicals or harmful emissions


Green Tip: Buy local at the Farmer’s Market in Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital’s Cafeteria: Every Wednesday, 12–5 p.m. The market features seasonal fruits  and vegetables grown in Goleta.


The biggest impact in keeping waste out of the landfills came from recycling all of the cardboard boxes and packaging that piled up at the hospital daily from shipments of supplies, food and other items. By working closely with vendors and suppliers, Cottage has been able to reduce waste.


“We’ve been building relationships with vendors that share a common interest in the environment,” Ruben says. “We chose companies that understood that recycling was important to us.”


In 2008, Cottage took another big step to reduce landfill waste by participating in the City of Santa Barbara’s pilot composting program. 


“Cottage was the first participant in the City’s program, and because of the stringent regulations  the hospital must follow, we knew that if the program could work at Cottage, then it could work anywhere,” said Stephen MacIntosh, who spearheaded the launch of the composting program for the City.


Cottage now composts about 7,500 pounds of food waste per month, with nearly 90,000 pounds composted last year. This is the equivalent of 24cars being taken off the road, according to the City’s environmental analysts.


“It’s been a great success,” Stephen added. “Not only does this reduce the amount of garbage in the landfill, it also reduces significantly the amount of methane (greenhouse gases) going into the air. Kudos go to Ruben and his team.”


Despite the achievements, there’s still more work that could be done, says Jo Vargas, manager of Environmental Services and co-chair of the Environmental Sustainability Committee. “I’m proud of the achievements we’ve made over the last five years,” she says. “But we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can accomplish.”





 Return to Cottage Magazine Fall 2010