What are some examples of universal waste

Environmental problems and opportunities in health care

The healthcare industry affects the lives of virtually everyone in the United States. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), health spending will account for about 17% of gross domestic product this year. Many health care activities result in land, water, or air pollution. Much of the waste is recyclable and consists of paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and metals. There are two other types of solid waste in healthcare: regulated medical waste and hazardous or chemical waste. In addition, hospitals discharge large amounts of wastewater and release air emissions from their plant operations.

Often hospital services are decentralized, divided into departments or even managed by contractually agreed services. There may be little or no centralization of efforts. There can be minimal consideration, knowledge, or control over minimizing waste or environmental impact. If health organizations really want to cut costs and reduce their carbon footprint, they need to promote sustainability with the full support of top management. You need to be very careful about what you are buying and what you are throwing away.

There are many variables that affect how health care waste minimizes:

* The types of products and materials purchased

* The types of waste separation systems

* The degree to which waste is identified

* The locations of waste generation

Waste from healthcare can be classified as follows:

* Communal

* Recycling (Pennsylvania Act 101 for example)

* Regulated medical waste (biohazardous or red bag waste)

* Hazardous waste (listed and characteristic waste, mixed waste, pressure vessel and flammable gas and general waste)

* Universal waste (batteries, fluorescent lamps, electronics, devices containing mercury)

* Wastewater, rainwater and air emissions

Municipal waste:

The US healthcare industry generates 6,670 tons of waste every day, the majority of which is solid or municipal waste. More than half of this solid waste consists of paper and cardboard. Hospitals with excellent recycling programs recycle over 40 percent of all municipal waste.


Many states mandate the commercial and private recycling of a wide variety of materials. For example, the Pennsylvania Act 101 mandates recycling in the larger Pennsylvania communities and requires counties to develop municipal waste disposal plans. The aim of the law is to reduce the generation of municipal waste in Pennsylvania. recycle at least 25% of the waste generated; Obtaining and using recycled and recyclable materials in state government agencies; Educating the public about the benefits of recycling and reducing waste.

Municipalities must collect at least 3 of the following materials: clear glass; colored glass; Plastics; Aluminum; Steel and bimetal cans; high quality office paper; Corrugated cardboard and newsprint. Commercial, municipal, and institutional facilities must recycle aluminum, high-quality office paper, and corrugated cardboard, along with other community-selected materials. Leaf and composting must be separated from municipal waste. Businesses, including hospitals, are encouraged to help reduce waste by purchasing products that are durable, repairable, recyclable, and / or minimally packaged, and finding other uses for excess goods rather than throwing them away.

Regulated medical waste:

Industry best practices for red bag waste range from one to three pounds of red bag waste per patient day. Still, many hospitals treat 25 to 30% of their total waste stream as infectious. Biohazardous wastes include sharp wastes, pathological wastes, blood and blood products, objects soaked in blood, and unregulated chemotherapy wastes. Most patients in medical-surgical rooms generate little or no infectious waste. However, there may still be a reluctance on the part of hospitals to "separate" the biohazardous waste at the patient's bedside or at the bedside of the treatment. Some health organizations still consider all waste generated in a patient's room to be red sackcloth, even if the waste does not contain visible blood. Hospitals may fear that if a garbage item is improperly disposed of, they will be cited with a violation.

Advances in pharmaceutical technology have reduced the need for surgical procedures. Changes in health reimbursements have reduced hospital stays and increased home and outpatient health care. Health care products are being packaged more efficiently, and the use of plastics instead of glass has reduced the weight of many products. Despite all of these advances, the widespread purchase and use of "single use" healthcare products has resulted in large amounts of waste that cannot easily be recycled. Many single-use medical devices can be safely sterilized, reprocessed, and reused multiple times. This can save health organizations significant costs by minimizing the need for individual items.

Hazardous chemical waste:

The healthcare industry produces only small amounts of hazardous chemicals relative to the amount of municipal solid waste or biohazardous waste. Hospitals that have research laboratories produce larger quantities and more diverse types of hazardous chemicals. Healthcare laboratories that perform diagnostic tests often use a large volume of a few chemicals such as xylene, alcohol, and formalin in their processes. Some laboratories recycle and reuse chemicals to avoid the cost of disposing of hazardous waste and buying back new materials. Other laboratories are equipped with chemical analysis systems with reagent reservoirs that reduce the total amount of chemicals used and the waste generated.

Wastewater discharge:

Most healthcare facilities direct wastewater to public sewage treatment plants (POTW). Discharges are classified as severe based on an assessment of six characteristics: (1) toxic pollutant potential; (2) waste stream flow volume; (3) conventional pollution; (4) public health implications; (5) water quality factors; and (6) proximity to nearby coastal waters.

Healthcare wastewater best practices include:

* Limit the use of water that is drained through conservation and reuse of water wherever possible.

* Training employees to use water more efficiently.

* Post signs on all floor drains and sinks to discourage employees from using drains to dispose of oil, vehicle fluids, solvents, and paint.

* Use non-toxic floor cleaners or "green chemicals".

* Consider plugging floor drains that are not in use.

* Prevent spilled material and drips from entering the drain.

* Know where your soil drains.

* Establish a preventive maintenance program for inspecting and cleaning floor drains, traps and oil / water separators.

Air emissions:

Hospitals can generate air emissions from boilers, emergency power generators, sterilization chemicals (ethylene oxide), air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, paint booths and fume cupboards.

Boiler: Many hospitals operate industrial boilers that generate both pollutant criteria (NOx, SO2, particles, CO) and dangerous air pollutants. NOx emissions from boilers are the most serious criteria for air pollutants in healthcare. Click here for information on the EPA's new HAP regulations for boilers.

Incinerator Emissions: Due to the HMIWI Medical / Infectious Waste Incinerator Rule, most facilities no longer have on-site incinerators.

Healthcare sustainability:

Through education, training, segregation, environmental purchasing, energy saving, recycling initiatives and waste minimization, an environmentally friendly initiative will have a major impact on reducing waste and pollution. Healthcare facilities should organize a multidisciplinary team of health professionals and develop a sustainability program if they have not already done so. A green team will reduce healthcare waste while saving money. Paying attention to the little things pays off. It's also an important part of an organization's PR and marketing arsenal.