"Wasting Away" in Health Care Facilities
A large training hospital can produce as much waste as a small town! Care and treatment of the average hospital patient typically produces about 5.5 kilograms of waste each day. That translates to over 400 tonnes of waste each year from a medium-sized hospital with 200 beds.
You might expect the biggest part of hospital waste to be biomedical, but in fact only about 15 per cent of the waste is biomedical, chemical and liquid, laboratory, pharmaceutical, or hazardous.
Just like the rest of the ICI sector, more than half of what hospitals discard is paper. Plastic and food also make up significant portions of the hospital waste stream.
It’s obvious from the pie chart that health care facilities could make great strides in diverting materials from landfill just by concentrating on setting up paper and cardboard recycling. The Regina General Hospital recycles two bales of cardboard a week and recycles its office paper through a local business.
The next largest part of health care waste is food (no jokes about hospital meals). In the absence of off-site composting facilities nearby, it’s difficult to handle food waste. Some hospitals donate produce to Food Banks. Used cooking oil can be sent to a rendering facility. A hospital in London, ON actually has a vermicomposting (composting with worms) facility on-site to handle its food waste.
Hospitals also have the potential to practice the second “R” - reuse. Some of Saskatchewan’s hospitals have donated out-dated equipment to hospitals overseas. While this might sound like “dumping”, a hospital bed that turns with a crank instead of the newer electronic ones is a welcome addition to small, remote hospitals overseas.
The potential for health care facilities to reduce their ecological footprint is great. For example, Orillia (Ontario) Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital has achieved remarkable results:
- modification of anesthetic machines to recycle nitrous oxide and isoflurane (an ozone depleting CFC gas) resulted in a 50% reduction in emissions to the atmosphere.
- converting anesthetic tubing to reusable material eliminated more than one mile of disposable tubing per year.
- pasteurizing respiratory tubing, masks and supplies for reuse
- decreased use of disposable sterile trays and increased sterilization of reusable trays, hardware and instruments.
- reduced water consumption through the use of reverse osmosis water from their Dialysis Unit as distilled water throughout the hospital.
With all of its resource conservation efforts, OSMH has diverted 81.5% of waste from landfill, reduced water consumption by 5 million gallons per year, and saved $205,660 in energy costs by using its own co-generation plant.
The CalRecycle website (California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) has a large section on health care waste reduction.
Check out the Candian Coalition for Green Health Care.
Check out the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council.
(Source: Sept. 2006 WasteWatch)
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