The process of caring for a patient in a typical operating room usually produces four to five bags of trash and medical waste. But a cost-saving system available to hospitals now can potentially cut the number of trash bags in half. Parkridge Health System that includes three hospitals in Chattanooga, Tennessee is a leader in joining the Healthier Hospitals Initiative with its sustainability program.
I asked Stericycle's Healthcare Sustainability Specialist Dee Taylor how a place dealing in germs and bodily fluids could possibly do recycling. She explained how medical technicians and nurses are trained to recycle as part of the operating room setup. "Everything that is recycled out of the operating room is done pre-case. We go in and we set the room up, everything is clean at that time. They go in and
open up the cases, they throw all the recycling in a green bag then they tie
that bag off and set it aside where it’s
not contaminated and it’s not used again. Once the patient is brought into the
room, everything is deemed not recyclable simple because we don’t want to get that cross-contamination happening.”
Taylor says a hospital that uses the recycling program may still have one bag of regular trash and one bag of medical waste to dispose of, about half of the previous amount. With some initial costs up front, administrators see savings in the long-run. Derrick Turner, the hospital's contracted Director of Environmental Services, said, "It's not a big cost to the hospital and you do receive the benefits of it cost-wise down the line."
Turner, who works with hospital staff to implement the Parkridge sustainability program, said employees have been generally receptive. Both he and Taylor stressed education was key for safety and to prevent contamination of the recycling stream.
Nurses and technicians dealing with pharmaceuticals now have a separate receptacle for disposing of medicines. Stericycle
provides special containers that prevent medicines from going into public water systems or regular landfills where medicines could eventually leach out. A hospital pharmacist explained that even multivitamins could be considered unsafe to dispose of otherwise because of their mineral content.