Taking the environment to heart, one pacemaker at a time

Nurse Caroline Gagner (left) and Nurse Manager Nadira Ramrup from the JGH Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory hold pacemaker batteries that are being sent for recycling.
Nurse Caroline Gagner (left) and Nurse Manager Nadira Ramrup from the JGH Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory hold pacemaker batteries that are being sent for recycling.

When it comes to helping the environment, the staff in Cardiology at the Jewish General Hospital take the task to heart: They’ve begun recycling pacemaker batteries.

In a new initiative, batteries that have reached the end of their lifespan are being recovered instead of discarded. In April, a box filled with dozens of used pacemaker batteries was delivered to a metal recycler; the sums received in return will be placed in a Green Fund at CIUSSS West-Central Montreal.

It’s one of several eco-friendly initiatives in our CIUSSS that are being highlighted in the run-up to Earth Day on April 22.

“It feels good to know we’re making a difference, and the batteries aren’t going to landfill,” says Nadira Ramrup, Nurse Manager of the JGH Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. “It’s part of being responsible about taking care of planet Earth.”

Used pacemaker batteries were collected by Cardiology staff
Used pacemaker batteries were collected by Cardiology staff

Ms. Ramrup says the batteries typically last 10 years, at which point they’re replaced in the pacemaker. Until recently, those used batteries were simply thrown out. But over the past two years, nurses in the Cath Lab have been cleaning them and setting them aside for recycling, collecting about 100 in all. The staff has been enthusiastic about participating in the initiative, Ms. Ramrup says.

The pacemaker project is one among several moves at the JGH to promote environmentally sustainable alternatives to the kind of waste generated daily in a large healthcare facility. Frédérique Binette, who oversees sustainable development initiatives in our CIUSSS, says nurses are well placed to identify opportunities for recycling and recognize the negative health impact of waste. A Green Committee of nurses from various departments has started to meet remotely every three weeks to discuss environmentally friendly projects.

One such project became especially pressing during the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic drove up the use of disinfectant wipes—which, in turn, left behind mounds of the rigid plastic containers that hold them.

John Marsala, Nurse Manager at the JGH’s Azrieli Heart Centre, began a project to recycle the containers, and has received widespread support from staff.

“There’s a passion for this. People want to take better care of the Earth,” he says. Staff had already been actively recycling batteries from portable heart-monitor machines for the past few years—recycling more than 22,000 batteries annually. Mr. Marsala has more project ideas, including reducing the use of Styrofoam and extending the recycling of disinfectant wipe containers to other hospital departments.

“If you lead by example, people follow,” says Mr. Marsala, who sits on the JGH Nurses’ Green Committee. “This our little contribution toward a greener world.”

Ms. Binette says our CIUSSS has made progress in shrinking its environmental footprint. Materials as varied as lightbulbs, mattresses, paint residue and computer parts are being recycled at the JGH, and recycling stations for plastic, glass and metal have been set up in common areas, such as Carrefour Lea Polansky.

Several JGH departments are getting behind the effort to find new purpose for old products. For example, lead batteries from wheelchairs are being recycled in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, as are lead containers in Nuclear Medicine. In both cases, the metals contained in the products generate funds for the CIUSSS.

The Nurses’ Green Committee has other ideas. It wants to sanitize and re-use patients’ water pitchers, and is exploring the potential for recycling the precious metals in coronary stents and the guide wires used for navigation during cardiac surgery.

“There’s real mobilization among staff,” says Ms. Binette, who also salutes the commitment by the CIUSSS’s Sustainable Development Committee. “A lot of people have ideas to share. We’re on the move toward a greener planet.”

Frédérique Binette welcomes environmentally-friendly suggestions from staff. If you have an idea you want to share, contact her at frederique.binette.dlm@ssss.gouv.qc.ca