As she climbed into a tent in Tanzania for dinner in June 2007, 47-year-old Danielle Butin looked forward to swapping stories with fellow campers about the breathtaking countryside. Instead she found a British physician—who was on a short holiday from a three-month medical mission in Uganda—on the verge of tears. "She said that in her practice in England, where the patients were generally healthy, she has access to every kind of medical equipment she could possibly need," remembers Danielle, a divorced mother of three from Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. "Yet in Africa, surrounded by people in desperate need of urgent care, she felt helpless: Her office supply cabinet was completely bare."
Recently laid off from her position as an executive of a health care company, Danielle had decided to spend her unexpected free time fulfilling a long-held dream to visit Africa. Yet, while hiking and camping up and down the scenic coastline, her attention was continually drawn to the country's medical needs. "At almost every stop along the way I would hear a story from a traveling nurse or doctor about the lack of resources," she remembers. "I started thinking about finding a way to merge my connection to Africa with my health care background, but until that moment, I just didn't know how."
Listening to the doctor's story that evening made Danielle realize that something as simple as providing bandages (which are so scarce in some areas of Africa that doctors are often forced to wash and reuse them) would make a difference, and she knew exactly where she could get them. From all her years of working in various areas of health care—clinical, corporate, and academic—Danielle was well aware of the astonishing number of new materials regularly discarded by U.S. hospitals.
Global Links, an organization dedicated to making health care facilities more environmentally friendly, estimates that as much as 2,000 tons, or $200 million worth, of supplies are thrown away each year from operating rooms alone. One reason for the extraordinary amount of waste: the strict coding and regulations in place to protect patients.