Reducing Medical Waste for the Environment and Bottom Line

How the Right EVS Provider Can Help Reduce Costly Mistakes in Biohazardous and Other Medical Waste Disposal

The post-COVID world has brought on many positive health-related changes, from a more intense focus on hand hygiene to an improved understanding of the importance of good indoor air quality. However, not all trends in the post-pandemic healthcare arena are positive.

Since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 2.6 million tons of medical waste continue to be sent to landfills each day. According to the WHO, the ‘tens of thousands of tons” of extra medical waste since COVID is putting a tremendous and expensive strain on healthcare waste management systems and filling landfills at an unsustainable rate. Experts are calling the situation a global medical emergency. Meanwhile, in less developed countries, medical waste is mixed with regular trash and sent to unsupervised landfills, creating health and environmental nightmares. The surge in discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) alone has led to dangerous increases in microplastics and microfibers worldwide, raising serious health concerns for humans, animals, plants, land, and water streams.

Being overly cautious in medical waste disposal was understandable during the COVID pandemic. However, the continued disposal of uncontaminated or overclassified medical waste is unnecessary, costly, and unsustainable. The good news is the right environmental services (EVS) provider can help reverse this trend by partnering with nursing and other departments to divert medical waste streams downward into the least hazardous processing method and more cost-effective option.

Medical Waste

Medical Waste Regulations

Most medical waste streams are regulated by each state, except for hazardous waste, which is mandated federally. Because state environmental and health departments primarily control it, medical waste classifications and definitions often vary by state. Medical waste includes all waste produced by a hospital, medical facility, or other healthcare-related institution and must be disposed of according to the state where the generator resides.

According to the California Medical Waste Management Act, the varying waste streams generated in a healthcare setting primarily include:

  • Biohazardous (BHW), often referred to as “red bag”
  • Sharps
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Trace chemotherapeutic
  • Pathology

BHW Misclassification

Medical waste generated from the treatment of patients, including any items saturated with blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM), such as bandages, gauze, or PPE, is considered biohazardous waste.

When hospital staff dispose of all medical waste in red BHW bins, they are overclassifying items as BHW, a practice that has escalated exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, medical teams accustomed to disposing of all PPE—contaminated or not—as BHW during the pandemic continue to do so.

Overclassifying regular trash or used non-OPIM supplies as BHW, results in additional expenses due to unnecessary material handling, processing, transportation, landfill, and labor disposal fees—not to mention the dire environmental consequences.

Medical Waste

Where Improvements Can Be Made

The current flow of BHW is unsustainable. Overclassifying regular trash or used non-OPIM supplies as BHW can happen for various reasons; bin location, lack of labeling, and insufficient education, training, and oversight are some of the most common. Properly educated and trained EVS teams can take the lead in helping healthcare facilities make improvements by driving the initiatives below.

Audit. Before healthcare facilities can improve their regulated waste-management protocols, they need to know where they are starting. Servicon can perform an initial waste audit to determine the current status and create a strategic action plan.

Education. Proper medical waste disposal starts at the point of generation. This often requires increased cross-departmental awareness, education, and training. Varying departments and teams must understand the “how” and the “why,” including the health, environmental, sustainability, and financial benefits of proper disposal. Educated and properly trained Servicon EVS leaders and technicians can help support interdepartmental training.

Bin and trash can placement. Specific to BHW, having red bin containers in the right places to make proper disposal as convenient as possible increases the chances of it being done in compliance with regulations. Red bins should be placed in clear view and close to where BHW is generated. This strategic placement facilitates correct and easy disposal and helps ensure the bins are not used as trash cans by hospital staff, patients, and visitors. Meanwhile, increased locations and proper placement of municipal waste bins (“regular trash”), predominately focused in patient care areas, can help reduce the improper use of red bins.

Sharps. Reusable sharps containers and changing the containers only when full reduces the number of disposable containers sent to landfills, or reusable containers being transported. Proper education and training can also prevent the comingling of sharps with pharmaceutical waste. With sharps and pharmaceutical wastes having very different processing methods, it is the most sustainable and cost-effective to ensure sharps that once contained pharmaceuticals but are now empty after being administered, go in the sharps container.

Monitoring and recording. Confirming process improvement requires continued monitoring and documentation. Tracking everything from weight, red bag purchases, and sharps container turnover to waste audits and disposal fees by facility, department, and area will show where success is being achieved or additional education is required. Best-in-class EVS providers use technology to track this and other valuable data.

Commitment. Worthy goals are best achieved through a unified commitment to reaching them. This commitment must start with top management and include everyone in the organization as well as outside vendors. The right EVS provider will commit to overseeing this initiative and ensure its ongoing success.

In a post-COVID world, there are multiple opportunities in healthcare to reduce medical waste streams. The right EVS provider can drive the initiative, helping the facility do the right thing for the environment and reap significant short- and long-term financial savings.

EVS Provider With Regulated Waste Management Experience Near Me

Is your EVS provider helping reduce your facility’s unnecessary regulated medical waste disposal? If not, contact us today to discuss how Servicon can help drive this initiative to lower costs and decrease your facility’s environmental footprint.

Servicon’s inaugural ESG Impact Report outlines the company's commitment to integrating sustainability and governance practices into its strategy, emphasizing transparency and the goal of positively impacting employees, clients, and the environment.

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