By Chad Haraschak, Crothall Regional Director of Operations
Every US hospital generates an enormous amount of waste. The good news is that the majority of hospital waste can be recycled. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 85% of total waste created is general, non-hazardous waste, and only 15% is considered hazardous material.
A BREAKDOWN OF HOSPITAL'S SOLID WASTE
According to the WHO, a hospital’s solid waste consists of the following categories:
- 54% is comprised of paper and cardboard
- 18% organics
- 15% plastics
- 3% metal
- 2% glass.
Managing these large volumes of solid waste and establishing recycling programs for each of them can save hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and stop tons of materials from filling up our landfills.
How Crothall Helps
Because purchasing decisions can help drive waste out of the industry, hospitals look to Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs), such as Crothall, for our ideas. One good case study is our work with Hackensack Meridian Health Jersey Shore University Medical Center, a part of the Hackensack Meridian Health System, one of the largest healthcare organizations on the East Coast, Jersey Shore has a 646-bed academic medical center, a Level 2 trauma center and a children’s hospital.
Here’s how we are making a difference:
Eliminate Waste from Suppliers
The fight to eliminate waste begins before medical supplies and other materials even enter the hospital’s front door. Jersey Shore’s corporate purchasing team mandates all suppliers are required to use packaging that can be recycled. And in some cases, there is no wrapping at all. For example, years ago, our linen came in bundles wrapped in plastic. A simple change that made an impact was to have the linen carts themselves delivered with just a sheet of plastic on top, reducing the amount of plastic used dramatically. This still meets guidelines, while reducing waste.
Single Stream Recycling
Working with the hospital, patients, visitors and medical staff can place all recyclable items into a single bin at hundreds of locations around the hospital. These materials include glass, metal, plastic, cardboard and non-confidential papers. The EVS staff collects these as they would regular waste and disposes them into the single stream recycling compactor where it is then transported to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are sorted and processed.
Reducing Waste in Operating Rooms
Hospital operating rooms can generate a large amount of waste. Years ago, worried that any material could contaminate the room, doctors and nurses would throw away everything. For example, some surgical instruments are wrapped in three layers of plastic for protection – but it would all be thrown out.
During the past decade, we’ve worked with the hospital and introduced recycling into the operating room. There are now three containers – one for regular trash, one for recycling and another for medical waste. So, now, all of that plastic and plenty of other items can be tossed into the recycling bins and reused. The committees still look for every opportunity possible to move waste out of the environment. Items like a switch to more reusable containers and items, recycling of blue wrap and ongoing education are topics of discussion.
Delivering Cost Savings for the Hospital
Disposing of medical waste can be costly; before our recycling programs began, Jersey Shore paid $4 per pound to dispose its medical waste compared to 30 cents to get rid of its regular trash. After an intensive education program, the cost of disposing the medical waste has dropped to about $1 per pound.
The cumulative cost savings for the hospital has also been significant, allowing them to plow this money back into medical care. It’s estimated that we helped reduce their waste removal budget by $200,000 annually. These dollars have allowed for funding of other waste programs, even before they were mandated. The hazardous waste and pharmaceutical waste collection programs were started with the funding from the other waste stream savings. Over the course of several years, it adds up to millions of dollars in savings.
Working Together as Partners
There is a coordinated effort to make certain we wring waste out of every part of the organization. As part of the hospital’s Network Sustainability Committee, Crothall directors meet regularly and develop a plan to meet key goals. And it’s important to show results. The Organization’s Director of Sustainability sets annual priorities and provides us with metrics on our progress each month.
One of Crothall’s major contributions is making sure we clean the entire hospital with sustainable products, and this committee needs to approve all of the cleaning products we use.
For example, not long ago, we partnered with the organization and moved to a product line that has its roots within the organization. This move to an all “green” chemical lineup has helped support the endeavor annually to be named to Practice Greenhealth’s list. We needed to show its sustainable impact while also providing quality results. After some trial periods, it was approved by the product committee.
Tips for Recycling at Home
Recycling newspapers, plastic bottles and glass are now commonplace in households across our nation. But I have another interesting idea for anyone with access to construction materials.
The current trend of DIY television shows has led a resurgence in reusing materials to create items for home. Many materials at our sites are delivered on wooden pallets. Several people, including staff at the hospital, have asked for leftover scrap material, using the pallets to make bookshelves and other household items.
Giving away these materials helps build goodwill, provides our company with visibility among our clients and eliminates waste. And it’s just one more way to contribute to our communities.