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Preventative Medicine for the Planet (cont.):
Full Interview with Ted Schettler, MD

by The Green A-Team

As Americans, we’re confronted with a host of issues surrounding health care but few of us have stopped to think about the environmental impact hospitals create through their treatment of hazardous waste and even daily operations such as food service.

We recently caught up with Dr. Ted Schettler, Physician, Science Advisor for the Health Care Without Harm campaign, and Coordinator for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment’s Science Working Group.  He is one of the driving forces behind the new Green garde of hospital operations restructuring and shares with us some of the inner workings of this visionary and vital process.

Q: What is your role in the Health Care without Harm organization and how did your interest in the environment converge with your professional career as a physician?

A: I’m the Science Advisor for the Health Care Without Harm campaign.  That campaign is about 12 years old and it’s mission is to reduce or eliminate public and environmental health impacts of the medical care industry without sacrificing patient care quality or safety.

Q: How has that organization helping to define medical waste disposal standards?

A: We started our work 12 years ago when we realized that hospital incinierators were the leading source of dioxin releases into the environment and since then we’ve made major inroads into reducing waste production in hospitals by going way upstream and trying to reduce the  materials that are coming in the front door so you have less to get rid of through the backdoor.

Q: So you’re using organic plastics or at least encouraging the purchasing departments to move in that direction?

A: We’re working a lot with purchasing departments to try to buy materials that accomplish the tasks that they’re needed for but can be recycled, reused, or gotten rid of in more environmentally friendly ways.

Q: Is there a way you can take used syringes and discarded organs and actually recycle them?  Is there a process for that?

A: Things that are so-called infectious medial waste like medical products that have been in contact with human tissue or blood can be decontaminated through a variety of technologies and then disposed of as ordinary waste rather than hazardous waste.

Q: What’s an example of how hospitals are adopting sustainable food practices?

A: We’re seeing a number of hospitals around the country get very interested in supporting local sustainably produced food by bringing it into their cafeterias for patients, staff, and visitors.  But also by holding farmers markets on hospital property which is a way of providing local farmers with a reliable market for their produce.  In this way, hospitals are not only able to serve more nutritious food but they’re supporting a kind of agriculture that is much less disruptive to the environment, much less polluting, much less of an effect on biodiversity and so forth.  So, it’s a way of linking agricultural reform with health care reform.

Q: What are some of the other organizations that you’re involved with and how can individuals get involved?

A: One campaign that I’m involved with is actually a large network called the Collaborative on Health and the Environement - you can find that website at - and there are many opportunities there for people who are interested in environmental health issues to become involved.  Health Care Without Harm is at  Again, interested folks will find opportunities to participate there.

Photo by snapthis.

One Response to “Preventative Medicine for the Planet (cont.):
Full Interview with Ted Schettler, MD

  • Rich Awn Says:

    By the way folks, this our 100th post… I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever done 100 of anything that wasn’t done automatically for me. WHIPPEE!!!!

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