Facility Dude

Tips for resuscitating your hospital’s recycling program

By Wendy Mallon
Sep 16, 2015

Healthcare, Facilities Management

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Tips for resuscitating your hospital's recycling program Hospitals and health care facilities are unique in that they are beholden to a variety of responsibilities and duties. In addition to looking after the health, safety and well-being of patients, these facilities also have a larger commitment to their communities - to operate in efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly ways.

Unfortunately, these two directives can often appear to be at odds with each other. Hospitals are large, and as such produce a lot of waste. Conversely, the hectic nature of their operation and the need to work within the confines of a budget can make things like proper waste management fall down the priority hierarchy.

The good news is that it doesn't have to be expensive, difficult or time-consuming to establish and maintain a facility-wide recycling program. Consider these tips if you're ready to start reducing, reusing and recycling while you resuscitate.

Identify your waste

One of the most important considerations when you're planning your recycling strategy is how much of the waste your facility produces is actually recyclable. Hospitals deal in, among other things, medical and biological waste as well as other hazardous materials, which can make standard recycling procedures somewhat difficult.

Interestingly, despite the highly specific nature of hospital materials, the vast majority of waste that comes from these facilities can be recycled, according to Health Facilities Management. The source indicated that much of the solid waste produced by hospitals that responded to a Los Angeles-area survey was recyclable. Some 54 percent of solid waste was paper or cardboard, 15 percent was plastic, 3 percent was metal and 2 percent was glass. All of these materials can be recycled in some form or other. In fact, only 18 percent of hospital solid waste was organic, according to the survey.

Provide necessary infrastructure

Having identified the types of solid waste your hospital produces, the next step is to provide infrastructure to support a full-fledged recycling operation. In the most basic sense this primarily means providing receptacles in the right areas. After all, if there are no plastics collection bins in a given wing, the chances that a doctor or nurse will walk all the way across the building to properly dispose of an item are slim.

FacililtyCare noted that the most common areas of health care facilities where recycling receptacles are found are cafeterias and other food-preparation areas. However, expanding your recycling program into a facility-wide event means you need to provide adequate disposal options elsewhere, too. Obviously it's not feasible to put recycling bins in every room, but the source did state that many hospitals have begun adding them to more high-population patient areas as a start.

"It's encouraging to see patient care areas gaining ground as a target for plastics recycling," Tod Christenson, executive director of the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council, said in a press release. "These areas often generate the highest volumes of plastic resources within the hospital."

Don't forget about training

Recycling is a simple enough concept that you may think that there's no need to spend time, money and resources on additional training for your program. While it's likely that everyone in your facility is familiar with the idea of a recycling program on some level, don't overlook the importance of training for awareness purposes. This is especially important in a hospital setting, where orderlies and other nonmedical staff members may routinely handle plastics or other recyclables that have come into contact with other forms of solid waste.

Safety is key for any policy to succeed, so be sure to drive home the importance of following proper procedure when recycling plastics. It may even be prudent to invest in infographics and other visual aids that can be hung in common areas and serve as a constant reminder to staff.

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