Innovation & Grants

Repurposed surgical blue wrap project reduces medical waste

In response to operating rooms ranking among the highest in departmental waste generation and a call by American Nurse Today to be more environmentally aware, the Flagstaff Medical Center (FMC) Surgical Services staff spearheaded the Blue Wrap Project in 2019.  

The project promotes sustainable hospital practices by reducing the environmental impact of disposed surgical blue wrap through innovative upcycling. Staff and community members are repurposing the blue wrap into re-useable bags for patients to store their personal belongings before surgery, replacing the typical green plastic bags given to patients. 

What is blue wrap, and why is it a problem? 

Blue wrap maintains the sterility of the surgical instruments used in the operating room. Staff commonly throw blue wrap away once they remove it from the surgical tray. 

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that blue wrap accounts for 19% of all operating room waste, and Practice Greenhealth estimates that about 225 million pounds of blue wrap are disposed of each year.

Blue wrap is a plastic product made from polypropylene (plastic #5). Despite being one of the most common plastics, less than 1% is recycled. When sent to landfills, polypropylene takes hundreds of years to break down, may never fully decompose, and may leach harmful chemicals into the environment. 

Re-usable patient bags and beyond 

With increased awareness about the issues with blue wrap, FMC has reduced the amount of blue wrap it uses by about half. However, this still leaves a large amount of blue wrap that gets thrown away. 

Over the past few years, the FMC Surgical Services staff has saved roughly 60,000 pounds of blue wrap waste from going into landfills and saved FMC approximately $17,000 in medical waste disposal fees. With vision and determination, the Surgical Services staff and local sewists have helped transform blue wrap into totes, sandbags, garment bags, dog beds, chair covers, masks, medical gowns, and more; providing a variety of upcycled and durable products for the Flagstaff community and beyond.  In just one year, volunteers have sewn over 1500 bags for pre-operative patients.

The Blue Wrap Project has also coordinated with charities and non-profit organizations locally and across the Southwest and Mexico to provide blue wrap products to refugee shelters, humane shelters, and churches.  Recipients include Habitat for HumanityMy360ProjectHope Cottage and the Tucson Refugee Mission.

Diana Oliver, left, and Kythryn Drios are local seamstresses who work with Northern Arizona Healthcare to sew blue wrap into usable products, as seen in this May 4, 2022 photo. Photo by Sean Openshaw, NAH Communications.

Request excess blue wrap and start your own sustainable project

Excess blue wrap is available for donation to community non-profit organizations and awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis as excess product allows. Organizations can request up to two bags of blue wrap, about 40 pounds each. Material is machine washable and reusable. 

Submit the form below or contact us with questions at [email protected].