You think youve got waste management issues? As the director of environmental services at the 294-bed Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, Dennis Owens is responsible for all waste handling—from regulated medical waste to retired IT assets.
Memorial Hospital, in Pawtucket, R.I., is a teaching and research hospital affiliated with the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University. Until two years ago, the disposal of technology equipment that had reached its end of life at the hospital was probably the easiest part of Owens job: Desktops, printers, monitors and other electronics were dumped in a state landfill, “a perfectly legal thing to be doing at the time,” said Owens.
After regulations changed, Owens had to find a company that could help the hospital get rid of equipment safely and securely and in a more environmentally conscious way.
“In health care, one of the big issues is HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] regulations because of all the patient information thats on the machines,” said Owens. “And also, just the general idea of being responsible about the environment and not letting [electronics] go just anywhere.
“Youve seen the horror stories about the Third World countries winding up with all of our used assets, trying to get things out of them and make some money,” he said. “So we were really looking for somebody who could take care of that job and make sure all of these things happened in a safe and secure way.”
Owens said several companies came to him, offering their services, but none seemed to be on the up and up.
“People were coming to us, but they seemed to be nonprofessional—you know, Weve got a truck; give us all your stuff and well take it away for you,” he said. “It just didnt seem like the right thing to do.”
Owens eventually connected with NextPhase, of Peabody, Mass. NextPhase provides enterprise-level asset management and risk mitigation services for end-of-life IT equipment and components. NextPhases recycling services include chain-of-custody controls, optimization of residual value, Environmental Protection Agency-certified partners, minimal e-waste, quick asset liquidation and competitive pricing.
Owens said he considered other companies that offered services similar to NextPhases, but two things about NextPhases offerings sealed the deal.
“We talked to a couple of other companies that were similar to NextPhase,” Owens said. “There were two things that clinched the deal for me: the thoroughness of [NextPhases] operation and the ability to pretty much conduct the whole process online, as well as the ability to share in the recycling process. No one else we talked to offered that opportunity.”
That sharing refers to the residual value NextPhase is able to glean from equipment, including metals. Owens said the fifty-fifty split hasnt amounted to a lot of money, “but at least its something to defer the costs.”
Road to recycling
Owens said that NextPhase has smoothed the recycling and disposal path.
After the hospitals IT department declares equipment to be surplus, the Environmental Services department picks it up and takes it to a holding area. There, the equipment is accumulated until there is a sufficient amount of material to be sent out.
Owens said that IT assets are collected on a daily basis in the hospital, and shipments go out to NextPhase every other month. “We usually send around 3,500 pounds every couple of months,” he said. “Its been pretty steady for about a year and a half.” Using NextPhases Web-based Asset Manager portal, Owens lists all the assets to be destroyed. NextPhase then schedules a pickup with a carrier that comes to the hospital.
“Generally, we ship out about 6 gaylords—theyre basically a 4-foot cube cardboard box—and all the materials are in that,” said Owens. “We load it on the truck, the door gets locked, and they take off and head to NextPhase. And then at that point they take over: They unload the truck, identify everything that was on the truck and start a process of looking at the equipment to see if theres any data still remaining on hard drives.”
Owens said he can track the equipments progress from start to finish. “Once the equipment gets to NextPhase, I get a receipt back and I can match up everything they say I sent them,” he said. “Its like a piece of security. At the end, when its all destroyed, they send another accounting. I get a certificate of destruction guaranteeing that everything was destroyed.”
The level of security NextPhase offers has also been satisfactory to Owens. “We were convinced that the level of security they were providing for everyone was [of] a pretty high standard, and we just agreed that that was an acceptable thing to have,” he said.
As easy as nextphase has made IT asset disposition for the hospital, Owens is looking for ways to get the responsibility off his plate. He sees promise in the fact that many technology vendors and resellers are starting to build the disposal of retired assets into purchase agreements.
“Companies themselves are starting to realize that they have some responsibility and may be willing to take some of the retired assets back as part of a purchase agreement deal,” he said.
Owens added that he has some influence on these kinds of buying decisions, as the hospitals IT department, purchase department and he are involved in the purchase process at one time or another. “So, if I start to see something that looks really good, then I would start to push that,” he said. “I dont really want to be in this business if I dont have to, so if that part of recycling really takes off and works, that would be a really logical way to go.”
While many organizations are just now seeking out greener solutions, Owens has been looking to go green—or at least greener—for several years. He said that the push has had a lot to do with the inherent concerns of the health care industry and with the charter of his department.
“Its a huge thing in the health care field across the board,” said Owens. “My departments involved as far as trying to minimize the effect of whatever chemicals we need to clean with, making sure that were recycling as much waste thats coming out of the hospital as possible—things like that.”
Owens was quick to add, however, that going green needs to be done one step at a time.
“It tends to be a very overwhelming thing to deal with, so my personal way of dealing with it was to knock it down into the smallest pieces and just accomplish whatever we could, whenever we could,” he said.
“So, weve probably been doing it for five years where weve kind of been picking on different things and trying to get things greener,” he said. “I wouldnt say were 100 percent, but were way ahead of where we were five years ago.”
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