Savings in Waste Management

Posted on May 16, 2011


Right now hospitals are looking for any way to reduce expenses. Why not look in the trash?

In my career, I have had several projects with a waste management component and two healthcare projects focused solely on hospital trash. No, I cannot claim to love trash the way Oscar the Grouch does. Yet those projects taught me way too much about biohazardous waste, trash chutes, incinerators, industrial autoclaves, waste stream logistics, costs, and both the politics and beauty of being grandfathered into current disposal regulations.

Trash is not glamorous, but I see three opportunities for savings at hospitals. 

One opportunity is to sort, collect and cash in recyclable materials. Recycling is often seen as a hassle; however, it is not difficult to make it a revenue stream given the scale of accumulation common in hospitals—especially paper, plastics and metals.  Paper can be traded for $200-300 per ton and plastics about ten cents a pound.  Aluminum cans are fetching around fifty cents a pound—double what I remember getting as kid. And much like when I was young, it does not seem like much at first but it adds up.

A second opportunity is to properly sort hazardous from non-hazardous waste. The big expense for hospitals is “red bag” trash, or pathologic waste. Studies show most waste that is deemed red bag, does not need to be; yet red bags are far more expensive to process. A former community hospital client actually did not discriminate at their facility—everything was red-bagged for simplicity—and they could not be persuaded otherwise. At a typical hospital, waste volume can be reduced 30% on average. Included in this decision should be how much disposable versus durable items to keep using (instruments, scrubs, etc.), since OR and LDR rooms are the primary waste generators.

A third opportunity is to consolidate waste properly. For solid waste, use compactors to make the volumes dense for storage and transport. This reduces on-site space requirements and allows for the transportation of more waste than when not compacted. Also, consider chippers for plastic and balers for cardboard, which shred and compress, respectively, for more dense and efficient storage.

Waste management will rarely get top billing when project planning comes around. Still, it can be worked into the program of another job possibly so that it is not always forgotten. Waste can provide a one-two boost to the bottom line because these three suggestions will not only provide savings through reduced volume, and also generate income.