Think “reuse” when it comes to back-to-school supplies


Most kids like the idea of buying new school supplies each year, but going back to school doesn’t have to be expensive. Before shelling out lots of dough purchasing new supplies, look at what was left over from last year. You may be surprised to find most notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, and markers can be used again. Use paper bags, leftover wrapping paper, or even a couple layers of newspapers to make book covers.

Reusing school supplies not only saves money, it is better for the environment. Reusing results in less trash sent to the landfill. The plastic found in pens, folders, and calculators are produced with fossil fuels; fossil fuel emissions negatively impact the environment. Paper comes from trees; cutting trees on a massive scale is harmful to the environment.

So think “reuse” when it comes to this year’s school supplies. You can save money and teach your children what it means to be good stewards of their resources at the same time. If you must purchase a few new items, look for products made from recycled paper, plastic, and reclaimed materials.

Learn about other ways to save energy and money at Gundersen Envision.


The Blue Wrap project


At Gundersen Health System we use blue wrap to wrap surgical instruments and trays prior to sterilization. In the past, once the surgical instruments and trays were in the OR, they were unwrapped prior to surgery and the blue wrap was thrown away. Considering that up to 22,000 pounds of blue wrap was being used each year, there was a lot of waste being produced. One of the fixes to this problem was investing in reusable hard cases for the surgical trays. However, since this was not possible for every surgical instrument, we knew that there must be a way to reuse and recycle the blue wrap.

Blue wrap is not made of cloth, it is actually polypropylene plastic (otherwise known as a # 5 plastic). Number 5 plastics can be recycled into items such as caps for bottles or medicine bottles, however we did not want to recycle all of the blue wrap, we also wanted to reuse what we could. We formed a partnership with the Coulee Region RSVP (Retired Senior and Volunteer Program), which is made up of volunteers age 55 and over. Their volunteers handcrafted the blue wrap into items such as tote bags and aprons (as pictured above), and wheel chair and walker bags that are used in the therapy department. The program started in the summer of 2011 and it is still going strong today. By reusing blue wrap we avoid purchasing items such as tote bags, which has enabled us to save money in departments throughout the health system. The most significant savings have been in the Breast Center where we have saved approximately $4,000/ year. This money can be redirected back into patient education materials. How does the blue wrap project relate to sustainability? By reusing and recycling the blue wrap, materials are kept out of the waste stream. In addition, we developed a long-lasting partnership with a wonderful volunteer program.

We can help you create sustainability projects at your organization. Find out how.

Think “Reuse” and save money on back to school products!


Is your child heading back to school this year? If so, you may be bracing yourself for the high expense of school supplies. There are ways to save on school supplies though. Here are a few ideas.

Before making plans to purchase new notebooks and folders look at the ones your child used last semester. With technology becoming so prevalent, notebooks are not used as much, however teachers still ask that their students purchase them. The same applies to folders. You may be surprised to find that your child’s notebooks and folders are still in good shape with plenty of good paper still available to use. So at the end of the semester, don’t let your child throw out their notebooks and folders without looking them over.

Book covers are also becoming more prevalent. They come in many different designs and materials—but they cost money. Save and reuse paper bags, leftover wrapping paper or even a couple layers of newspapers. Pencils, pens, erasers, and markers can all most likely be reused. Most students like the idea of buying brand new items for the school year, however if they still work, save your money and ask that they reuse them. Going back to school can be less expensive if you pay attention to the products your children use, and be the judge as to whether or not they need new materials.

Reusing school products will also be beneficial toward the environment because you aren’t buying more products like paper or plastic. Why is this important? Plastic can be found in pens, folders or even calculators that students use. In order for plastic to be made, it requires oil, and oil can have negative effects on the environment including harming the atmosphere. Paper comes from trees, and trees are necessary for the environment to thrive and be healthy.

At a time when deforestation is a huge concern, it is not worth it to buy new school products when you could just reuse. Not only would this benefit your wallet but you would also be teaching your children what it means to be good stewards of their resources. So be smart and think “reuse” when it comes to school supplies.

Learn about some of the projects Gundersen Health System has implemented to save energy and money.

Love jam? Make it at home!


Do you purchase jam from the store? If you do, perhaps it’s time to consider making your own. Many people avoid making homemade jam because it is time consuming and sometimes expensive. But there are many benefits to making homemade jam and there are ways to save money while doing it.

When you make homemade jam, you are in control of what goes into it. For example, you can add as much or as little sugar as you want. You also know where the fruit came from and you are avoiding the unnecessary additives that are in many store bought jams. It is a great way to use up fruits from your own backyard if you grow your own fruit trees.

Making jam at home usually provides you with a large amount of leftover jam that can be stored. How could you save money? Jars are expensive, so instead of purchasing them brand new, borrow them from friends or family, or buy them used. It also helps if you are making jam from fruit that you grow or fruit that you received for free. It also better to make jam in the summer when most fruits are in season because they are cheaper fresh!

Are there any other benefits to making jam? Yes, and it involves the environment. Reusing jars will not only save money, but it will also help the environment because jars require essential resources to be created, and it takes energy and fuel in order to transport jars a far distance. If you use local food you are also saving on energy and fossil fuels because local fruits do not need to be transported as far. So if you haven’t considered making your own jam, try it! It’s time consuming, but if you work with your friends and family it could become a new hobby. You will also help the environment. If you are interested in learning basic tips on how to make jam, check out this link:

Learn  more about sustainable practices at


Beat the heat: Make your own car windshield shade






During the summer months the inside of vehicles heat up fast, especially if they are sitting outside in the sun all day. Many people avoid this issue by purchasing car shades for their windshields. However, instead of purchasing a car shade, make your own! Making your car shield is easy to do and requires minimal material. So how do you make your own car shade? First make sure you have newspaper or any type of paper and tape it together so that it fits over your windshield. Using a marker or pen, trace your windshield onto the paper and then cut out the windshield pattern. Transfer the template over to a big piece of cardboard. Using a utility knife cut out the shape of the windshield on the cardboard. Add about six inches to one side though to allow you to fold your car shade like an accordion. Next, hold your car shade up to your windshield and cut out where the rear view mirror is so that you can fit the car shade behind it. Once you know your car shade will fit, draw five vertical lines evenly spaced on the cardboard. Fold the cardboard along the lines to make the accordion shape. You can even paint your car shade to add some pizzazz!

At Gundersen we believe that recycling and reusing products is very important. Even the smallest recycling project can make a big difference. Interested in learning how Gundersen reuses and recycles materials? Check out our website at Better yet, attend our Sustainability Management seminar.

Stop by your local thrift shop today!


Have you ever shopped at a thrift shop? If you haven’t, or if it has been awhile, give it a try—you might be surprised at what you find. Shopping at a thrift shop is like shopping at a garage sale. You can find all different types of items for a cheap price. Thrift shops or second-hand stores also make an effort to sell only lightly handled/lightly used items that will still last a long time. Thrift shops sell items ranging from clothes, to cookware, to furniture.

So why should you go out of your way to shop at a thrift shop? First, you can save money. Most thrift shops also support the local community—places like Goodwill and Salvation Army not only sell used items but they also support citizens who are in need of assistance. Shopping at thrift shops helps support the local community. Lastly, shopping at thrift shops supports the idea of “buying local.” Most items found in malls or large department stores were shipped from a far distance, which requires vast amounts of fossil fuels and energy. If more people shop at thrift shops, large companies may get the message that people care about the environment and they want to support the local community.

At Gundersen Health System we believe that purchasing local is very important, along with reusing/recycling items. For example, we reuse blue wrap from the OR that is used to wrap surgical instruments. Instead of throwing it away, we partnered with the Coulee Region RSVP (retired senior volunteer program) whose volunteers sew the blue wrap into items such as aprons and bags that are handed out to patients and visitors. By reusing blue wrap, we save money by avoiding purchasing items such as tote bags for our patients. The most significant savings have taken place in the Breast Center where we have saved approximately $4,000/year. We also purchase local foods for our cafeteria such as dairy products and meat. Any individual can make a positive impact, no matter how small. So when the time comes to buy furniture or cooking supplies for your college student, save some money while supporting the local community by going to your local thrift shop!

Wrap your gifts in “Green” this holiday season


Think green before you buy gift wrapping paper for the upcoming holidays. Start saving newspapers, magazines, and other recyclable paper. The photos above are gifts wrapped in newspaper that was saved. Bows and trinkets were added to turn them into something unique. Not only would you be saving money by avoiding the purchase of wrapping paper, but you would be doing the environment a favor.

Wrapping your gifts in recycled paper is not the only way you can go green during the holidays. Consider giving your friends and family homemade gifts, or keep leftover jars and boxes throughout the year as another alternative to gift packaging. Not only is this something that you can do during the holidays, but it is a practice you can use for birthday gifts, retirement gifts, and so much more. 

Gundersen Health System recycled up to 460 tons of paper and cardboard in 2012. We are making continuous efforts to find ways to reduce the amount of paper we purchase in the first place, and recycle anything that happens to be leftover. Any organization can start a paper recycling or reuse program. Whether you work for a large organization or you are an individual looking for ways to be a good steward of the environment, remember that anything helps no matter how small — just like the example shown above.