Hospitals Get Greener

It's one of the healthcare industry's dirty little secrets:  hospitals historically have generated most of their communities' landfill waste as well as polluting the air through medical waste incineration and polluting  drinking water by dumping meds down the drain.  Yet communities look to hospitals to be leaders in health and wellness.  More and more US hospitals are overcoming this irony and showing leadership through a broad-based, voluntary program called the Healthier Hospitals Initiative.      

One of the six HHI challenges is "less waste," which shows promise for cleaning up many American communities.  HHI says hospitals generate, on average, 26 pounds of waste per staffed bed, per day. Some hospital changes are required by law, such as the Environmental Protection Agency's rule that set stronger standards for reducing emissions of mercury, dioxin and lead from medical waste incinerators.  Others have been cooperate efforts between government and industry, such as the American Hospital Association's waste-reduction agreement with the EPA.  The new HHI initiative launched this year uses the latest science and health expertise to support the health care industry in voluntarily doing the right thing.

One of HHI's member hospitals is Parkridge Medical Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The hospital diverts one-quarter to one-third of its waste from the landfill by properly sorting and recycling its trash.  Healthcare Sustainability Specialist Dee Taylor with Stericycle said, "Hospitals are the number one generator of landfill waste in the country.  Recycling within a facility we can pull out 25  to 35 percent of the trash that goes into the landfill."
Healthcare Sustainbility Specialist Dee Taylor
Director of Environmenal Services Derrick Turner
Taylor coordinates with the hospital's Director of Environmental Services, Derrick Turner, a contractor who oversees the medical staff education and compliance. Parkridge, with three Chattanooga locations, was one of the first hospital systems in the country to implement a reusable sharps program in 2007, keeping 64,000 sharps containers out of landfills since then.

Last year it started single stream recycling for everything from cafeteria trash to operating room waste.  Turner said the recycling efforts support the hospital's mission, "These things tie in to health and wellness very strongly."

How does a hospital manage single stream recycling in a clinical setting?  More on that tomorrow.