Patients and visitors at one of five Virginia hospitals may notice new signage about a mission reduce plastic waste.

Inova health system, which is the largest in Northern Virginia, set a goal this summer to eliminate plastic straws and reduce single-use plastic items like coffee stirrers and cups in the public areas of its hospitals, such as cafeterias and gift shops. The initiative kicked off this month.

Inova formerly used 3 million straws annually, or a mile of straws every day. The plastic straws have been replaced with a more environmentally friendly paper version that the system says is very sturdy and will last two to three drinks. Plastic straws will still be available at the cashier stand for anyone who needs one, but Inova is encouraging people to skip the straw all together if they are able. 

The initiative was borne from the health system’s Go Green at Inova program, which aims to create a sustainable organization without impacting patient care. The system targeted plastic waste for a number of reasons. First, while a single straw is only used for a few minutes, it takes a thousand years to fully break down. Also, because straws are so light, they are easily swept out of landfills where they can end up in waterways and harm marine life. 

“We are proud to be the first health system on the East Coast to eliminate plastic straws and look forward to partnering with our vendors to reduce unnecessary impact on the environment,” says J. Stephen Jones, M.D., president and CEO, Inova. “Inova recognizes that being a leader in health care means caring for our environment as well as our patients. We understand the health of our planet affects the health of our patients and community and encourage others in our industry to join this endeavor.”