The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


January 13, 2010

Charity keeps unused medical equipment out of landfills

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Boxes of surplus medical equipment sit on shelves in a brick city warehouse. Rows of medical beds occupy another section, not far from dozens of white IV poles.

These outdated and unneeded items likely would have headed to a landfill in the past. But over the years, organizations have been collecting, refurbishing, and sending useable equipment to developing countries which lack even basic medical necessities.

While humanitarian-based donations have long been around, the idea of refurbishing items and keeping goods out of landfills has been gaining ground as more hospitals go green.

“I think it was the idea that things that are getting discarded, that people are literally dying for the lack of overseas, and we’re throwing it away,” said Kathleen Hower, executive director of Global Links, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that recently marked its 25th anniversary.

“There’s an enormous need for just basic primary care materials,” she said. “If you keep people healthy with primary care, then it cuts down on the need for all that much more sophisticated care later on.”

U.S. hospitals annually throw out about 2,000 tons of unused medical supplies from operating rooms alone that are worth more than $200 million, according to Global Links.

Cecilia DeLoach, senior manager of sustainable operations at Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit membership group for hospitals committed to environmental sustainability, said while concrete numbers are hard to come by, her group estimates that hospitals discard more than 200 million tons of waste a year.

Generally, hospitals try to figure out how they can generate less trash to begin with or how they can recycle, but “beneficial reuse,” such as the work done by groups like Global Links, is growing, she said.

Since its founding, Global Links has gathered more than 3,000 tons of items and sent them to developing countries, including Bolivia, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica.

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