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Waste Reduction Strategies for Health Care Facilities
Why do healthcare locations need waste management strategies designed to reduce waste? Health care facilities, hospitals, clinics, veterinary clinics, and dental offices produce many types of waste. By reducing their medical or infectious waste production, they can lower their costs, protect public health, and remain in compliance with state and federal regulations.
With more effective medical waste management, your facility can analyze your waste stream, determine which types of waste can be reduced, and implement better diversion strategies to separate hazardous waste from normal commercial recycling and solid waste. Let’s dig down into the details of medical waste reduction.
How Important Is Health Care Waste Reduction?
It is estimated that health care facilities produce four million tons of general waste in the United States each year.1 Hospitals spend an average of 20% of their environmental services budget on waste disposal.1 Proper disposal of healthcare waste is a big challenge for every medical provider.
Studies show that while the amount of regulated medical waste in the facility waste stream is only about 15% of the waste generated, many facilities dispose of 70% of their trash as regulated medical waste.1 This means they pay more for waste disposal than necessary, while putting more burden on systems used to safely dispose of biohazardous materials.
Waste Reduction Strategies for Healthcare Facilities
Healthcare facilities benefit with waste management and waste reduction strategies tailored to the industry. Changing how your healthcare waste is handled and disposed of can have a big impact on the environment and your budget. Consider these ways to reduce the amount of medical waste your facility produces:
- Review state laws regarding regulated medical waste. Make sure your waste management plan is correctly identifying what your state considers regulated waste, which is contaminated by blood, body fluids, or other infectious agents.
- Create a waste management planning document that outlines proper disposal of regulated medical waste and other types of waste your facility generates. This plan should be shared with staff and updated annually or as needed.
- Install small medical waste containers and larger containers for general waste and recycling to limit the use of the medical containers as trash cans. Limit patient access to medical waste containers, and keep them at a distance from the other refuse containers.
- Use color coding of containers to identify “red bag waste” and provide signage and other visual indicators to help staff and patients identify the right containers for proper disposal of non-medical waste and recycling.
- Separate medications and chemotherapy supplies from other regulated medical waste, as these items need specified treatments like incineration to meet state regulations. Most other types of regulated waste can be sterilized by greener means than incineration, which will be better for the environment.
- Implement reusable products and reduce the use of disposable or single-use medical supplies. Changing to reusable surgical supplies alone can reduce the amount of regulated medical waste produced by an operating room by 65%.1
- Perform audits and compliance checks to identify educational opportunities and process improvements. Schedule a waste stream audit from a professional waste management consulting company like Global Trash Solutions and find out what is slipping through your current process.
Health Care Waste Management and Treatment
There are four major categories of waste recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These are general waste, infectious waste, hazardous waste, and radioactive waste. All of these types, with the exception of general waste, require specialized waste handling, treatment, and disposal.
Prior to 1997, 90% of infectious medical and hospital waste was incinerated.2 The EPA revised its regulations at that time, and it continues to revise and review the Hospital Medical Infectious Waste Incinerator (HMIWI) standards as recently as 2013. Staying up to date on the latest EPA recommendations and how they translate into state laws for your facility is important to staying compliant and avoiding fines, fees, and damage to your reputation.
Alternatives to Incineration for Medical Waste Disposal
As EPA standards on incinerators grow tighter, new technologies are emerging as alternatives for treating medical waste to make it non-infectious, reducing the risk of disposal of the material in landfills or non-medical incinerators.
Your state regulations will determine which of these alternative technologies might be used on regulated medical waste:
- Thermal heat treatments, including microwaves
- Autoclaving or steam sterilizing
- Chemical sterilization
Companies using chemical technologies to reduce the infectious nature of waste materials must be registered with the EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticide, and Toxic Substances, Antimicrobial Division.2 Working with reputable service providers will reduce your environmental footprint and ensure ethical processing of all the waste your facility generates.
Treating Regulated Medical Waste Onsite
If your state allows onsite treatment of medical waste, it may offer a cost-effective solution for small facilities or specific categories of waste at larger healthcare centers. Taking this approach requires a rigorous separation and diversion process for waste reduction and safe handling of all types of waste.
- Many single use items can be sterilized in an autoclave before disposal with general waste.
- Microwave systems can be used to disinfect medical waste without metal components.
- Chemical disinfection of liquid waste is possible in many cases.
- Onsite testing of treated materials will be required before disposal as general waste.
- Pathological and trace chemotherapy wastes are usually required to be incinerated.
- Bulk chemotherapy waste must always be disposed of as hazardous waste.
Partnering with a Medical Waste Management Service
There are many advantages to working with a professional waste management consulting service to improve your medical waste management processes, contract rates, and equipment. Just some of the reasons that healthcare facilities and organizations partner with a waste consulting and brokerage service include:
- Improving safety for healthcare workers, patients, and the public
- Implementing sustainability and environmentally green initiatives
- Addressing issues with compliance or changing regulations at the state level
- Identifying cost saving opportunities and implementing new systems
- Leveraging industry-specific expertise in waste handling, recycling, and disposal
- Coordinating medical waste management across multiple locations and facilities
Gain Insight into Your Medical Waste Management Process
Waste management is an often overlooked part of your operating budget, but there are almost certainly improvements that can be made to your process, equipment, or vendor pricing. Having a professional team of waste management consultants and brokers takes the burden and confusion out of navigating regulations and audits.
You can start with a free consultation and schedule a waste stream and process audit quickly with Global Trash Solutions. We will leverage our nationwide network of vendors and medical waste disposal companies to find you the best rates, containers, and schedules possible. We can help you capture recyclables and embrace green initiatives while saving you 35% or more on your waste management costs.
Call 866-760-8194 today to schedule your health care waste management consultation and speak with our experts about your unique needs and concerns. We help small single location clinics and nationwide healthcare organizations to improve their processes and heal their bottom line.