Major: Neuroscience, Baccalaureate/MD
Activities: President, Key Club; Tutor, Read to Lead; Participant, LeadAmerica Youth Leadership Conference; State Tournament Contestant, Science Olympiad
Growing up, Sheena Khanna grabs her toys from thick, plastic bins. The same containers are scattered throughout the house storing family goods — mail, tools, cleansers.
By the time she’s a teenager, the containers have piqued her curiosity.
“Where do you get all these containers?” Sheena asks her mother one day. “Operating rooms,” replies her mother, an eye surgeon. “They were going to be thrown away.”
Sheena is stunned. The items her mother brings home include plastic and Styrofoam containers, plus paper boxes that previously housed medical supplies.
She wonders: Why aren’t hospitals recycling these things? “We see recycling in school and at home, but it needed to be implemented in hospitals,” Sheena says. “They were just throwing everything into a contaminated waste bag, which is more costly to dispose of and worse for the environment because when it’s burned, it releases carcinogens.”
Sheena decided to tackle the problem herself after learning that many hospitals in her area lacked a program to recycle non-hazardous materials. With the help of her younger brother Rajan, she discovered that other items commonly found in hospitals such as corrugated cardboard and glass containers could also be recycled. Armed with this knowledge, Sheena and Rajan created the Empower & Assist Recycling Through Hospitals (EARTH) project.
“Recycling these materials has huge benefits both environmentally and financially for the hospitals,” says Sheena, who is in communication with several hospitals in her hometown of Oak Brook, Ill., and plans to present the recycling program to their board members. The program is currently in place at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.
“We’re really pushing to expand the program and I think it’s going to grow a lot,” she says.
Currently, the EARTH project is updating its Web site and presentation materials. During her time at USC, Sheena plans to familiarize herself with Los Angeles-based hospitals.
“I want to see what kind of recycling is going on in Los Angeles,” Sheena says. “I definitely want to see what I can do here.”