Finding value and compliance in hazardous waste management and medical waste disposal is no simple task.  There’s shrinking budgets, higher sustainability demands, and increasingly complicated regulations to contend with.

It might sound trite, but it’s absolutely true: a little planning goes a long way.  When it comes to grappling with these kinds of issues, the most effective strategy comes in the form of a comprehensive waste management plan.

Last week, we spent some time discussing the different ways to identify and define regulated medical waste.  We’ve already established that our facility or business generates regulated medical waste (RMW), and characterized it as such in the identification process.  So what’s the next step?

The focus seems to shift immediately to disposal, but if we focus our efforts and attention on disposal first, we neglect another key component: waste reduction.  Searching out available opportunities to reduce the volume and/or toxicity of our medical waste should undoubtedly come first.

Source reduction, or prevention, of waste is defined as “activities that reduce the toxicity or quantity of discarded products before the products are purchased, used, and discarded.”  It’s a basic but invaluable concept, as exploring these options gives us the ability to meet requirements without compromising care or quality.

Case studies suggest that with source reduction and recycling education, businesses and facilities can realistically aim to decrease regulated medical waste waste to a mere 6-10% of their waste stream and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that only 3-5% of medical waste truly needs to be disposed of as regulated medical waste.

For waste reduction, reuse or recycling to occur within a facility, there are a number of available strategies.  Here are four pretty much fool-proof methods:

1.) Waste segregation:

Currently, most facilities resist waste segregation because of its perceived inconvenience and the difficulty of ensuring staff compliance, but this is a huge mistake.  There are serious opportunities for cost and volume reductions!

Many businesses routinely throw around 50-70% of their generated waste into the regulated medical waste stream, although a large portion of this waste is actually very similar to that of a hotel or office building – mostly paper, cardboard and food waste.  These same businesses often go on to pay up to ten times as much to dispose of RMW versus solid waste.

(If you’re interested in learning about why segregation is especially beneficial with sharps management, check out our article on Special Treatment Considerations: Sharps.)

2.) Better on-site disposal practices:

This could include anything from using single use device reprocessing (instead of treating certain items like disposables, they are cleaned and reassembled for reuse) to effective management of liquid wastes.  A perfect example of this is implementation of systems that empty liquid contents of suction canisters directly into the sewer, thereby reducing transportation and disposal costs by removing canisters from the waste stream.

Some items in health-care settings are not likely candidates for recycling or reuse, but a shocking volume of materials in health-care settings have reduction, recycling and reuse potential.  In fact, a new company was announced recently that will offer medical facilities and hospitals recyclable, protective, sterile surgical linen packs, and will be both highly protective and safely recycled at a cost lower than disposables.

Familiarize yourself with all the available technologies, or consult an expert (you can do so right now by calling 800-929-3738).

These programs can save you money, certainly, but also can reduce worker exposure and handling, as well as dramatically improve environmental impacts.

3.) Education/training for employees:

Training is a critical component in a RMW reduction program, and should be mandatory for every new employee.  Ensure that your staff has clear, consistent information, as well as a full understanding of the hazards, risks, regulations, health and safety impacts, cost implications, and environmental concerns.  If you have specific ideas about how you want things done, i.e., waste segregation or disposal practices, it’s your responsibility to make sure your employees have been notified.

4.) Track progress, and make adjustments wherever necessary.

A good waste reduction plan isn’t concrete and unchanging.  See what works for you and what doesn’t, and keep abreast of any important changes in the landscape.

Mastering waste reduction is an essential ingredient in your prescription for low cost, compliant, and sustainable success.

For more information or assistance with handling and disposing of your medical waste, contact Hazardous Waste Experts at 800-936-2311.

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