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Originally published Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:32 AM

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Tumwater laundry goes green, saves money

Sterile Surgical Systems President Greg Gicewicz pumped his fist in the air as a steady downpour beat on the roof of his plant where 15,000 pounds of hospital bedding, towels, gowns and operating room supplies are laundered and sterilized each day.

The Olympian

TUMWATER, Wash. —

Sterile Surgical Systems President Greg Gicewicz pumped his fist in the air as a steady downpour beat on the roof of his plant where 15,000 pounds of hospital bedding, towels, gowns and operating room supplies are laundered and sterilized each day.

The owner of this little-known South Sound business likes to see the rain because his company captures rainwater from the roof to feed the plant's industrial washing machines.

"We're capturing 5 percent of our water supply from half the roof - it's significant," Gicewicz said. He said the collection system will be expanded soon to the entire roof of the 12,000-square-foot warehouse.

His goal is to eventually collect rainwater from other tenants in the industrial park at 29th Avenue Southwest, enough to meet 50 percent of his water needs.

Those water needs are far less than they used to be, thanks to a $115,000 water treatment and recycling system the company installed in November.

"We used to need 50,000 gallons of water a day," he said. "Now we're using 15,000 gallons."

Projected savings on the company sewer and water bills should pay for the water recycling unit within a year, Gicewicz said.

For this and many other efforts, the company was one of 10 in the state to receive a 2010 Environmental Excellence Award from the Association of Washington Business.

"The 10 companies represent some of the best examples of free enterprise and innovation our state has to offer," said AWB President Don Brunell. "Their work is essential to helping jump-start our economy, preserving precious natural resources and moving Washington forward."

Recycling the water saves money for Sterile Surgical Systems in other ways. For instance, the company's natural gas heating bills and carbon footprint are on the decline because the recycled water is twice as hot as city water coming into the plant, which reduces the cost of heating it to run the washing machines.

The water also returns to use with a higher pH content than city water, reducing the use of sodium hydroxide to boost the water's pH by about 660 gallons a year.

"Being a good environmental steward and saving money are one and the same," Gicewicz said.

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Another case in point: The company used to spend about $350 a month to dispose of all the plastic bags and wraps generated by the business.

Earlier this year, Sterile Surgical Systems invested in a machine to bundle the plastic into bales. The bales are picked up and used by a company in the construction of synthetic decks.

The hospital linen and reusable surgical equipment laundered and sterilized by the company comes from 35 customers from Everett to Portland. Providence St. Peter Hospital and Capital Medical Center are not among them.

"We're definitely interested in reusable surgical textiles, but we're constrained by lack of space to store them," said Geoffrey Glass, Providence St. Peter Hospital director of facility and technology services.

The six washers operated by Sterile Surgical Systems have load capacities ranging from 35 pounds to 480 pounds and operate on computer programs set up with 20 different washing formulas, depending on the item.

On average, the bedding, gowns, towels and other items cleaned at Sterile Surgical Systems are reused at the hospitals 50 to 100 times before they are discarded.

Before the surgical packs are returned to the hospital, they are sterilized in an autoclave at temperatures reaching 133 degrees Celsius, which is 271.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

The business, which has been located at the Tumwater plant four years, employs about 30 people.

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Information from: The Olympian, http://www.theolympian.com

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