LiveGreen: A new way to recycle lab coats

The med center is always looking for opportunities to reduce waste and improve its impact on the environment, from recycling batteries to going styrofoam free.

Lab coats are one example of items that are challenging for the med center to dispose of responsibly. In the past, lab coats have been repurposed by giving them to research labs on campus, donating them to local schools or making them into blankets for kids. Recently, the med center took another approach to sustainable disposal of the lab coats — shredding them for home insulation.

The med center collected 938 pounds of lab coats and enlisted a local company, DataShield, to shred them. DataShield mainly provides material destruction services, but it is also committed to remaining environmentally conscious — 100% of shredded material is fully processed and recycled into new products.

The shredded material will help to make homes and businesses more energy efficient. Installing insulation is a great way to celebrate National Weatherization Day on Oct. 30, which highlights the impact of energy efficiency efforts in improving the health and safety of the community. Installing insulation to areas where heat loss can occur is one of the most important weatherization projects, because it has such a significant impact on the energy efficiency of a home.

The partnership with DataShield also aligns with National Energy Awareness Month in October, celebrating efforts to reduce energy use, utilize renewable sources of energy or reduce inefficiencies in energy consumption.

That old lab coat might just be going from on someone’s back into the walls and, at the same time, having a positive impact on health and the environment

Browning prairie plants provide vital cover

As the dryer weather, the cooler temperatures and the shorter days of an Omaha fall set in, the prairie plantings by the Truhlsen Eye Institute and Lot 64 look different.

Prairie plants detect major seasonal changes and respond accordingly, often by losing their leaves or browning in color. During this time of year, it is tempting to see these sparse, browning plants as an eyesore, but there are many benefits to leaving prairie plants in place during the fall and winter.

Pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths and birds play a vital role in plant reproduction and species survival. Plant debris, tree bark and stray grasses can provide native bees with a dry and warm habitat for the winter.

Many butterfly species, such as swallowtails and sulphurs, spend the wintertime in a chrysalis, hanging from a plant stem or tucked into the soil. Other butterfly species spend the winter as caterpillars, nesting into a host plant or in a fallen leaf.

Dormant plant beds also provide a vibrant habitat for birds and other insects in the wintertime. Birds are attracted to the insect-rich habitat of a winter garden, where they consume insects and seeds dropped from undisturbed plant heads. When people remove plants and gardens in the fall and winter, it can tear away the habitats of these essential pollinators.

Leaving prairie plants untouched in the fall and winter goes beyond a respect for wildlife. It nurtures the health of the entire ecosystem by providing essential soil and water benefits. Soil is home to a thriving ecosystem of nutrients and living organisms, and it plays a significant role in storing carbon dioxide. Prairie soils in particular contain extensive root systems, and they are especially rich in organic material from the decomposition of plant material from previous seasons.

Removing the protective layer of plants and leaves from the soil leaves it vulnerable to moisture loss and temperature change. Disturbing the composition of soil also disturbs its vital water filtration, carbon storage and flood mitigation capabilities, all important to human health.

Encountering sparse or browning plants during the winter months offers a chance to think about all the life they sustain. To learn more, read The Lowdown on the Prairie article from the Chicago Botanic Garden, or consider planting a prairie garden.

Pawpaw tree planting set for Oct. 6

The med center will hold a tree planting event on Thursday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the northwest corner of 41st and Harney streets, and the campus community is invited.

Children from the UNMC Child Development Center will join the event as new pawpaw trees are planted. Attendees will learn about the pawpaw and can talk to a certified arborist, and kids who attend will participate in a fun activity. 

Pawpaws have served an important role in U.S. history. They were first harvested by Indigenous communities and later introduced to European settlers, and they are included in works of literature by such writers as Walt Whitman and William Falkner. 

Pawpaw trees are relatively short, only around 20 feet tall on average, with large green leaves and a potato-sized green-yellow fruit. Although pawpaw fruit is increasingly popular among fruit lovers, it has a short shelf life, so it is unlikely to be at a local grocery store. Many have described the fruit as a mix between banana, mango and vanilla custard, but others find it bitter and unappetizing. 

Pawpaws quickly propagate through their root system, with a mature tree sending up dozens of shoots in a single season. Despite their numbers, pawpaw trees from the same root system are unlikely to cross pollinate, requiring trees from two different plantings to pollinate for the trees to grow their distinctive fruit.  Pawpaws are pollinated by carrion flies and beetles, not bees, leading some pawpaw farmers to go so far as to hang roadkill in their trees to attract pollinators. 

Although the tree has been around for centuries, little is known about the health impacts or benefits of pawpaws. Renewed interest in this native fruit has gained attention by researchers, who are now exploring if the fruit has any cancer-fighting properties.

Tom Payne, a certified arborist with UNMC, said adding pawpaw trees to campus is important for campus tree planning. Tree diversity strengthens the campus tree canopy, and the pawpaws will be the first on the UNMC and Nebraska Medicine campus.

Having a healthy campus tree canopy can help reduce the temperature on campus by breaking up urban “heat islands,” and act as a carbon sink and clean the air. Having access to natural environments can also help support psychological well-being.

All-campus #WeAreUNMC barbecue set for today

Faculty, staff and students all are welcome to attend the #WeAreUNMC BBQ from 3:30-6 p.m. today at the Ruth and Bill Scott Student Plaza.

“The barbecue provides us an opportunity to welcome back students and show appreciation to our faculty and staff,” said Channing Bunch, director of student life inclusion and diversity. “There will be delicious food, activities and a chance to get to know your fellow classmates and coworkers.”

UNMC IDs will be required to attend the event. Music will be provided by Complete Music, and the food stations will be provided by Sodexo. There will be backyard games and giveaways (while supplies last). All are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets.

Each year, the Office of Sustainability aims to make this event zero waste, which means that 90% of the waste created at the event is not sent to the landfill. This year, they’re striving to beat last year’s diversion rate of 71% and hit 90% again, as happened in 2019.

The event is hosted by the UNMC Student Senate and the Student Life Inclusion and Diversity Office and sponsored in part by Metro Credit Union and GreenSlate Management, in collaboration with the UNMC Department of Strategic Communications, the Office of Community Engagement, the Center for Healthy Living, the Office of Sustainability and the UNMC Bookstore.

The rain location will be in the Truhlsen Events Center on the first floor of the Sorrell Center.

Transit users must be registered for TravelSmart

On Monday, Aug. 1, all med center employees will be required to have registered for TravelSmart in order to use their ID badges to ride Metro transit buses.

Colleagues who rely on the bus to get to or from work should make sure they are registered before that date. There will be a short grace period, but employees will not be permitted to ride Metro buses without a badge connected to an active TravelSmart account.

After registering, people should expect a 48-hour delay before a card is turned on. Employees who already registered for TravelSmart do not need to re-register.

Register here.

For the last year, employees have not been required to swipe their badges because a new payment system was in place. That is no longer active. On ORBT buses after Aug. 1, all med center employees will be expected to tap their badges instead of simply showing the driver.

TravelSmart transit benefits also apply to employees who rely on MOBY. MOBY is Metro’s shared, complementary ADA paratransit service for users who cannot access existing routes due to a disability or a disabling health condition. Riders must register to use MOBY and use their ID badge.

Now is a great time to try the bus system. There are several health benefits associated with mass transit. As more people use public transportation, there are fewer cars on the road emitting harmful pollutants. Increased use of public transportation also leads to a reduction in the need for parking, which costs money, takes up space and has a large carbon footprint associated with the energy intensive production of concrete.

Plus, improved urban air quality is healthier. Air pollution has many connections to public health issues, including myocardial ischemia, chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and more. And there is a much lower rate of passenger death rates for buses compared to passenger vehicles.

Free, first-year bike share memberships now available

UNMC and Nebraska Medicine are launching a new TravelSmart benefit to provide a free, first-year bike share membership to students, faculty and staff with med center email addresses.

Bike sharing systems allow members to easily unlock, ride and return bikes and electric pedal-assist bikes at a network of docking stations around the city. Omaha’s bike share system, Heartland B-cycle, features about 70 stations throughout the city.

Because there are a limited number of free Heartland B-cycle memberships available, interested students, faculty and staff should sign up as soon as possible — first via TravelSmart and then through the Heartland B-cycle app using a special promo code. Detailed instructions for how to sign up for the free membership are provided below and also on the LiveGreen TravelSmart website.

Please note that new members will be required to input credit card information but will not be charged except in the event that they check out a bike for longer than 60 minutes. The med center program covers all costs associated with trips under one hour. Heartland B-cycle will never auto-renew the membership by charging the card on file.

How to sign up for a free Heartland B-cycle membership:

  1. Regardless of status as either an existing TravelSmart program user or new participant, people must register for TravelSmart and choose the option for bicycle and any other offerings.
  2. Once registered for TravelSmart, participants will receive a confirmation email containing a special promo code.
  3. On the Heartland B-cycle website or app, follow the instructions to register for an annual membership. When prompted, enter the appropriate UNMC or Nebraska Medicine email address and the special code from the TravelSmart confirmation email.
  4. Input credit card information. (See note above.)
  5. Download the Heartland B-cycle app or use the website to find nearby docking stations. The number on each blue icon is the number of bikes currently available at that station. If the blue icon has a lightning bolt, there is currently an electric bike available.

Updated carpool pass is due

More than 500 people who work at the med center carpool to work. For active carpooling participants, an updated carpool pass is now due.

One carpool partner from each group needs to go in person to UNMC Parking Services, located at the Student Life Center Room 2002, to receive an updated carpool pass by July 15.

Now is a great time to test out carpooling. Carpooling groups save money: Groups get to park on campus for free and save money on gasoline by commuting to work together. Faculty, staff and students who start to carpool can continue to park in their existing parking lot or even a better lot, depending on the carpool partner.

By reducing emissions from vehicle exhaust, carpooling can improve both human health and environmental health.

For people who are interested in carpooling but don’t know a med center colleague to partner with, check out the Metro Rideshare carpool matching program. It is a great way to find other commuters at the med center who have a similar work schedule and lifestyle preferences.

Participants who sign up to carpool through TravelSmart also have access to an emergency ride home in case a carpooling partner has to leave work unexpectedly.

Click here to access the carpool signup.

Energy curtailment season begins at the med center

The UNMC community is familiar with “energy curtailment,” when colleagues and students are asked to help the campus by using less energy on days when the combined heat and humidity put extra stress on campus energy systems. Starting today, the med center will be in and out of curtailment throughout the summer.

By using less energy on curtailment days, the med center:

  • ensures continuity of essential systems for critical hospital and research functions;
  • reduces pollution;
  • improves the health of the entire community; and
  • helps save money — both now (consumption) and for the next 12 months as the next year’s electrical rate is based on UNMC and Nebraska Medicine’s maximum usage at any given point in time. This is always important, but especially now, as budgets are tight.

So what simple things can be done to help?

  • Close shades, blinds and curtains whenever possible to reduce solar heat gain;
  • When on campus and others aren’t, please help by closing window coverings and turning off any lights or equipment not being used;
  • Lower lighting levels where possible, turn off lights in unoccupied areas and when leaving a room;
  • Turn off and unplug all electrical equipment not in use (computers, coffee makers, printers, chargers, etc.);
  • Shut fume hood sashes when not in use;
  • Open doors manually instead of using the ADA buttons if possible
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator; and
  • Tell others.

Updated technology has allowed the med center to control curtailment better. It is possible that workspaces will get warmer as the day goes on, but there shouldn’t be any freezing spaces. For a full explanation, see the Energy Curtailment page.

Spaces are not controlled individually, the system cools larger areas. So while the med center has a temperature range to maintain, it’s possible a colleague’s individual space may not be the exact preferred temperature. Only call 402-552-3347 (Nebraska Medicine) or 402-559-4050 (UNMC) to report spaces colder than 66 degrees or warmer than 78 degrees.

Patient care and research spaces are not affected by energy curtailment.

Parking rates largely remain steady

Parking rates for UNMC and Nebraska Medicine faculty, staff and students will not increase for the upcoming fiscal year for 48 of 50 lots.

Review parking options and monthly rates on this map.

“In a time of inflation, UNMC and Nebraska Medicine have taken this into consideration and agreed not to raise parking rates for employees and students,” said Victoria Zajac, director of Auxiliary Services. “In addition to TravelSmart, we provide a variety of parking options that enable individuals to select what works best for them.” 

Although most motorists will not incur a rate change, there are two campus lots that have been on an increase schedule to create equity with similar lots; those permit holders will be notified individually, Zajac said.

Permit holders are reminded that parking fees do not generate revenue for the medical center. Fees cover such annual operating expenses as ongoing repairs and maintenance of lots. They also cover land purchases, snow removal, security and enforcement, equipment, lot improvements and administrative costs.

Earth Month a success

The med center held a variety of events this year to commemorate Earth Month.

All month, med center team members participated in the online Drawdown Ecochallenge, where they earned points for individual actions. As a team, colleagues consumed 21 meatless or vegan meals, saved 116 pounds of carbon dioxide and conserved 780 gallons of water.

On April 6, local organizations including Hillside Solutions, City Sprouts, MAPA, Metro transit, Omaha Permaculture and OPPD came together to talk about their programs and how higher education students across the Omaha area can take action and get involved.

Then on April 12, presenters Peter Pellerito from the UNMC Center for Healthy Living and Lauren Monroe-Neal of Prepped by Lauren offered a virtual cooking demonstration focused on eating healthy and sustainably.

The annual personal document shredding and electronic recycling event took place April 19-20. It collected:

  • 189 pounds of assorted media (VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs and floppy disks)
  • 3,727 pounds of electronic waste
  • 3,893 pounds of paper for shredding
  • 198 pounds of alkaline batteries (approximately 3,000 batteries)
  • 10 pounds of rechargeable/button batteries

That’s a total of 8,025 total pounds diverted from the landfill. That impact equates to approximately an estimated:  

  • 450 gallons of gasoline not consumed
  • 4,426 pounds of coal not burned
  • 4.7 acres of U.S. forests conserved in one year
  • 152 incandescent lamps switched to LEDs

People also donated:

  • $563 and a carload of food to the Maverick Food Pantry
  • 38 pairs of eyeglasses to the Truhlsen Eye Clinic
  • Three bags of pop tabs to Ronald McDonald House

The month ended with a tree planting to celebrate Arbor Day’s 150th Anniversary and the med center’s achievement of Tree Campus USA certification. A Ginkgo biloba tree was planted in the green space near 42nd and Farnam Streets.


Photo: A Ginkgo biloba tree was planted in the green space near 42nd and Farnam Streets to celebrate Arbor Day and the med center’s Tree Campus USA certification.