Waste has become a major issue over the last few decades. As society has advanced, more and more things have become disposable and we have become more and more willing to just toss things in the trash, even when it's not necessary. In fact, about fifty percent of all plastic produced is to be used just once before getting thrown away. This problem is exacerbated in the medical field.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines medical waste as, "Waste generated by health care activities includes a broad range of materials, from used needles and syringes to soiled dressings, body parts, diagnostic samples, blood, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and radioactive materials." Hospitals in the United States produce about 29 pounds of waste per bed per day resulting in nearly 6 tons of waste each year. That's just hospitals in the US. And after COVID-19, that number is sure to be significantly higher once all is said and done.
Much of this waste is unnecessary and must be minimized. Thankfully, there are some easy ways of reducing the waste and helping to keep the planet clean while cutting costs.
Each state has different rules and regulations which determine which kinds of waste are classified as medical waste and which are not. It's important to check your local laws to know what needs to go in a red bag and what can simply be thrown away. According to Biomedical Waste Services, "Generally, waste from regular patient visits, such as bed liners, device packaging, test strips or medication containers don't fall into the regulated category."
Once you learn about your local regulations, don't keep the information to yourself. Inform others at your facility or see if the waste management department can offer a brief training session to employees. A simple change like this could diminish the amount of medical waste your facility produces pretty significantly. This not only keeps the volume of trash lower, but can save a facility money as properly disposing of medical waste can be very costly.
There are several ways your facility can restrict access to medical waste containers which will reduce the amount of medical waste produced.
Using smaller medical waste containers that are clearly color coded can make staff think twice before tossing something into a red bag. This will help ensure that medical waste, and only medical waste, winds up in those red trash bags. Using larger, gray containers for regular waste will, in turn, encourage people to use those for common, everyday trash.
Additionally, keeping medical waste containers away from patients will also ensure that only medical waste finds its way into those bags. If medical waste containers are left in places that patients can easily access, gum wrappers, receipts, and visit summaries will likely wind up in them. Just keep these containers out of reach of patients whenever possible.
Whenever possible, reuse items. Everything made of plastic is not single-use. Many metal and plastic objects can actually be disinfected and reused. Always check with local regulations and your facility's infection control professional, but there is plenty that can be reused which we have simply become accustomed to throwing away.
Before even making a purchase, check to see if what you need can be bought in a reusable form. For example, CS Medical manufactures the TPorter® TEE Ultrasound Probe Procedure Case, a complete delivery system to safely move delicate TEE ultrasound probes throughout a facility. TPorters are a great solution because they are reusable and can help bring down the amount of waste produced by your facility.
Ensure that your facility is doing everything it can to reduce waste. It's good for your company's bottom line, reducing waste and reusing items can significantly cut costs, and it's also good for the planet. By knowing the rules, restricting access, and implementing reusable items, you can help your healthcare facility and the environment be cleaner and more efficient.