Principles of Waste Minimisation
- Using Fewer Resources
- Segregating Waste Streams
- Diverting Recyclables
- Case Study: Huge Waste Savings at Opole Hospital
Hospitals are massive resource users, producing tons of waste every day. Most of that waste is much like office or hotel waste: plastics, packaging, cardboard, office paper and so forth. Waste therefore offers many opportunities for hospitals to significantly shrink their environmental footprint. They can:
- Use fewer resources to start with
(by using less paper, packaging etc.)
- Segregate ordinary waste from infectious waste to maximise the amount available for recycling
- Divert recyclable waste from the solid waste stream
Using Fewer Resources
Source reduction is the minimisation or elimination of waste which is generated before a product is used.
This is achieved by substituting bulky, non-recyclable products with lots of packaging for those with minimal packaging, bulk and made from recyclable materials.
Green purchasing is an essential strategy for source reduction. Find out more in the Green Purchasing section of our website.
Segregating Waste Streams
Separating different types of waste at the point of generation and keeping them isolated from each other prevents infectious and hazardous waste contaminating ordinary waste.
This minimises the amounts of infectious, hazardous and low-level radioactive waste that must be treated according to special (and usually costly) standards.
Below: segregation done well. Used (but non-infectious) medical devices for recycling.
Effective segregation also allows recovery and reuse of materials from the waste stream.
The majority of waste from health care facilities is surprisingly similar to that of an office building or hotel — paper, cardboard and food waste.
Hospitals can implement fairly simple programs that divert these materials from the solid waste stream, lowering disposal costs.
Huge Waste Savings at Opole Hospital
Opole Hospital is a medium-sized regional facility in Poland, with almost 300 beds and 500 staff. In 2005 it treated 10,200 patients in 2005 and carried out 96,000 consultations.
Consultation with HCWHE member the Waste Prevention Association (WPA) revealed massive over-spending on treating infectious waste, caused by inefficient waste segregation processes.
WPA trained 327 employees in improved waste segregation practices in just three days, plus some additional small-group trainings at specific workplaces. As a result the hospital cut infectious waste quantities by 50%, waste management costs by 79%, and managed to reclaim 14.7 tonnes of materials for recycling.
In the dialysis unit, a rigorous overhaul of disposal practices reduced the amount of infectious waste produced by 53%. On average, the hospital units reduced infectious waste quantities by 49%.
As a result of improving its processes, Opole saw a 79% reduction in its waste management costs over three years.
The size of the problem: the chart above shows the contents of infectious waste bags. In fact, only 38% of the waste in the bags was genuinely infectious. The rest was ordinary waste, potentially recyclable, and certainly not in need of expensive decontamination.
Opole shows how waste minimisation is not about state-of-the-art technology: it is about easy access to clearly-labelled, separate receptacles for the different waste streams.
- Ten Ways to Reduce Regulated Medical Wastes (pdf)
- Waste Minimization Resources (pdf)
- Waste Minimization, Segregation and Recycling in Hospitals (pdf)
Waste Reduction in Healthcare (pdf)
Download our factsheet for information about recycling, plus case studies of successful waste minimisation projects.
- What's Wrong with Incineration (pdf)