Q: Dear Wise Guru of Unique Mankato Information,

Every time I have inpatient and outpatient contact with the Mayo Clinic Health System, I am floored by the waste it generates. No, not just in dollars — there's plenty of that — but physical waste: Surgical utensils thrown away and not cleaned and reused — or even sent to Africa, where I'm sure they need them. Plastic drink bottles. CPAP equipment. Unused toothpaste and mouthwash. The list goes on.

Does the Mayo Clinic Health System reuse or recycle anything? Or does it all go into the landfill?


He Who Wants to Know.

A: As most people know, the conservation hierarchy is "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle," and Amanda Holloway, director of the Mayo Clinic Office of Sustainability, focused first on the first.

Mayo "is partnering with our Supply Chain Department to work with vendors on reducing packaging, purchasing environmentally-preferable products (like products made with recycled-content materials), and finding ways to reduce waste," Holloway said.

In terms of reuse, Mayo participates in a program approved by the Food and Drug Administration where single-use surgical devices are sent to a reprocessor where they are cleaned, reassembled, tested and then sold to be used again. Mayo is striving as well to boost the amount of recycling of plastic items used in surgical areas.

"The bulk of the work is occurring on the Rochester campus where Mayo Clinic operates its own recycling center, but we're working to standardize practices, where possible, across the organization," she said.

Mayo facilities, including in Mankato, are installing drinking fountains with bottle fillers to cut down on single-use plastic water bottles. And Mayo Clinic Food Services is attempting to reduce food waste and has committed to eliminating Styrofoam, something that's already happened at the Mankato hospital, according to Holloway.

Food composting is being considered, and food waste from the Rochester campus is converted to animal feed.

Mayor is also attempting to get employees across the organization to spearhead sustainability improvements.

"Mayo Clinic Green Advocates act as environmental champions in their work units to encourage eco-friendly habits with their colleagues, communicate messages about sustainability programs and find ways to reduce the environmental impact of their work unit operations," she said.

Q: I read your article about the problem with the time it takes to get hot water to remote faucets, especially in patio homes. I purchased my patio home a little over 3 years ago (it was built in 2005) and I, too, had to wait over five minutes or more to get hot water to the bathroom faucet in the master bathroom. ... He suggested putting in a recirculation pump, which I had installed and now I get hot water to that remote location almost immediately.

A: Ask Us Guy actually got the same information about recirculation pumps from a couple of guys who had read last week's column, wondering if the suggestion could be passed on to owners of basementless homes and others with long waits for hot water.

"The pump is small and is installed in the hot water supply pipe above the water heater and a bypass is installed in the location I want to get hot water faster," one of the readers stated.

The recirculation pump moves water intermittently through the pipes and back to the water heater, which keeps water from sitting for hours in the pipe — its temperature steadily dropping down to that of the air or (in the case of patio homes) the gravel surrounding the pipe.

"This process is similar to turning on the hot water faucet and letting the water run until it gets hot, but instead of the water going down the drain, it is simply returned back to the water heater," explains EnergyStar's website.

Both readers were happy with the results, although one noted a minor issue: "The only downside is if you want to have cold water in that location it can be a little warm (not hot)."

Well, there was one other downside: "It cost me $580 in 2017 for the pump, bypass and the installation by a licensed plumber. The upside is it saves a LOT of water and my time waiting for the hot water, so it is well worth it."

So, it sounds like the pump solves the problem of having to wait several minutes for water to turn hot at a shower or sink in a remote part of the house. People probably shouldn't assume, however, that they're necessarily doing something good for the environment.

Sure, the reduction in wasted water is clear, but that could be offset by the wasted energy that comes from moving cool water from pipes back to the water heater, warming it up, and moving it back into the water pipes awaiting the next shower or hand-washing.

"Recirculation systems that operate continuously have the potential to use more energy, due to energy spent pumping and hot water energy lost from the pipes, than the energy saved by reducing hot water waste," according to EnergyStar.

The pumps typically have timers, so those energy costs can be reduced by limiting the hours when the pump operates. The reader said he sets his recirculation pump to shut down overnight.

Q: Now just one minute ... . "Wise Guru of Unique Mankato Information?"

A: Yeah, that jumped out at Ask Us Guy, too. It's kind of a cool title, but "wise" would be a gross exaggeration. And it's important to note that the column — while written in Mankato — welcomes questions from North Mankato, St. Peter and the broader region. So maybe just  "Guru of Unique Mankato-Based Information" — or GUMBI for short.

But, then, he's not really a guru, more of a deliveryman for local government leaders and other experts who typically generate the answers.

Also, "information" might be a little too grandiose to describe what readers get. There's long been speculation that GUMBI's editors continue to run the column only because they have a lot of space to fill in the largest edition of The Free Press each week.

With those corrections, it would be "Deliverer of Unfocused Mankato-Based Assorted Sunday Stuff."

Probably too long.

Maybe Ask Us Guy will just stick with his current title.

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, P.O Box 3287, Mankato, MN 56002. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.

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