Health Facilities Management, in cooperation with the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) and the Association for the Healthcare Environment conducted a survey reporting that while the overwhelming majority of hospitals believes the green movement is truly important for the planet, patients, staff, the community and their own bottom line, hospitals are at various stages of embracing sustainability.  Cost savings was cited as the top factor (84 percent) in determining whether hospitals should pursue environmentally sustainable operations.  Where hospitals produce more than 5.9 million tons of waste annually, in terms of waste management, recycling of pharmaceutical/regulated medical waste continued to gain momentum in 2013.

 One example: Tyler Weaver, sustainability coordinator at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, since 2007, has developed a comprehensive sustainability program that continues to yield impressive results.  The facility is recycling in 28 categories, has reduced its medical waste by 75 percent — saving more than $1 million each year — and achieved a recycling rate of 53.5 percent for fiscal 2013.

Other commonly cited waste management initiatives among health systems in the survey were waste management plans for all materials and waste streams (74 percent), facility wide management programs (75 percent), tracking waste volume and cost (69 percent), and establishing baseline rates and cost for recycling and all other waste categories (66 percent).  While the numbers are healthy, they should be higher across the board, experts say. “Waste is a measurement of your inefficiency,” says senior environmental performance consultant Laura Brannen. “If you’re not tracking your inefficiency, you’re wasting money.”

The good news is that there’s plenty of help out there. “It’s exciting that there are vendors who have become very important business partners for hospitals,” says Janet Brown, director of facility engagement at Practice Greenhealth. “They not only remove the material but help with staff training, education, data for tracking and more. Hospitals should have a plan that identifies a vendor.”

“Reprocessing of single-use devices should be a no-brainer,” Brannen says. “There are still a lot of perceived barriers, but facilities that get past them are saving millions.”

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