Hospital Waste Could Be Slimmed Down

U.S. hospitals produce over 4 billion pounds of waste a year—second only to the food industry. A few simple steps could help cut those numbers dramatically without compromising safety or health.

Hospital Waste, Credit: TMAB2003, FlickrCCU.S. hospitals produce a vast amount of waste—more than 6,600 tons per day or over 4 billion pounds annually according to Practice Greenhealth, second only to the food industry. Many products involved in medical treatment require proper disposal once they’ve been contaminated with bodily fluids. But researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found ways for hospitals to safely minimize their trash loads. Two main forms of trash coming from operating rooms can be streamlined: single-use sterilized equipment and regular garbage bagged as hazardous waste. Opening instrument packages only when they are needed is one easy fix. There is also reprocessing available, where opened or even used equipment can be made ready for repeat use. This is true of items like pulse oximeter sensors (which measure blood oxygen) or compression sleeves.

And hospital staff can sort waste more carefully. Red bags are used for medical waste that requires more cautious—and expensive—disposal procedures. Researchers found that up to 90% of what gets put in the special red bags is just regular trash that should be in a clear bag.