Registered nurse and "recycling champion" Gina Helias.

Registered nurse and “recycling champion” Gina Helias.

The University of Vermont Medical Center relies on grassroots support to achieve sustainability success. Registered nurse Gina Helias, who’s worked in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) for 26 years, discusses her role as a recycling leader in the workplace.

Recycling roots

“I’ve just always been involved in wanting to save the environment,” says Gina. “Even way back in the 70s, when recycling was almost unheard of.”

Born in Arizona, Gina married a Vermonter and moved to the Green Mountain State in 1989. For Gina, the state’s commitment to sustainability “is one of the reasons I like Vermont so much. They’re just so aware of the issues I think are important.”

“Wait, that’s not recyclable?”

A conscientious recycler, Gina noticed staff improperly sorting their waste—specifically, people throwing trash into recycling bins.

She also discovered that many at-home recyclers abandoned the practice while at work: “I think people know [about waste streams], but they just don’t think about doing it here.”

Other staff shared her recycling concerns: “The more people I talked to, the more people I found were frustrated and wanted to get involved.”

Inspired to improve waste-sorting practices and unite green-minded peers, Gina volunteered to organize the hospital’s Recycling Champions, staff volunteers from nearly every inpatient unit who encourage and monitor recycling in their units. Says Gina, “I thought we could really mobilize a lot of people and make a big difference.”

Promoting recycling through education

Gina wants to spread recycling awareness throughout the hospital via its 40 or so champions. “I hope that through communication, we can educate people and get as many people as possible who can be ‘police’—people who can monitor what others are doing and keep an eye on recycling bins.”

She believes that targeting each unit’s “problem item” (plastic cups, bottles, and so forth), as well as creating unit-specific signage, may help staff better sort their trash.

Start the conversation

Do you want to make your workplace greener, but you’re not sure how? Here’s a simple solution: start talking! Says Gina, “I think recycling is something that should be brought up all the time.” Consider including waste sorting and other green topics as part of staff training and meetings.

Remember, “There are so many opportunities to do the right thing.”

UVM Medical Center employees who want to learn more about the Recycling Champions can email Gina Helias. Danielle Calaway is a Staff Assistant in Facilities Management and a member of the Green Team.

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