April 22, 2020

Sustainability During a Crisis: How Healthcare Organizations Can Honor Earth Day 2020

The novel coronavirus has ushered in unprecedented times. Businesses of all kinds are rethinking how they operate and trying to find ways to effectively navigate a new normal. With healthcare organizations being on the forefront of the crisis, it’s no surprise they are finding it challenging to provide critical, comprehensive care to seriously ill patients while still maintaining focus on core principles such as sustainability.

Although Earth Day 2020 looks different this year in light of the pandemic, it can still serve as a good reminder of the importance of preserving the environment and pursuing strategies to become more sustainable.

Here are a few questions to consider during this time.

How does healthcare affect the environment?

Hospitals are often the biggest water user in a community, and they generate thousands of tons of waste per year. With the regular use of toxic chemicals and hazardous pharmaceuticals, it’s easy to see how a healthcare facility can have a substantial impact on surrounding land areas and waterways. Fortunately, environmentally minded hospitals and health systems have been tackling the issue of healthcare sustainability for a while. In some cases, they have created hospital sustainability programs that review current supplies, energy usage and waste management processes and make adjustments to lessen the organization’s carbon footprint. These efforts can continue during the outbreak and beyond, ensuring organizations remain focused on protecting the environment.

What is waste management sustainability in healthcare?

A key component of healthcare sustainability is sustainable waste management. This is where a healthcare organization commits to following processes and using sustainable waste solutions that prevent dangerous chemicals and other harmful contaminants from leaching into the environment. To realize sustainable waste management, healthcare organizations should partner with a knowledgeable and experienced waste management expert that will supply appropriate waste containers for hazardous material collection and also safely and compliantly remove and transport waste from the healthcare facility to a licensed disposal or treatment center. Depending on the type of waste, proper disposal may involve incineration, treatment before landfill or recycling. The waste management company can also sometimes recover energy from the waste, offering additional environmental benefits.

How can waste management be more sustainable?

Healthcare organizations play an essential role in driving sustainable waste management. By continuing to implement robust recycling programs, using reusable waste containers such as those that house discarded sharps, and correctly segmenting waste, organizations can limit the amount of material going to landfills, while ensuring any landfill waste is not harmful to the environment. Organizations must also train staff on how to properly dispose of hazardous waste, used sharps, contaminated materials and controlled substances. It is especially important to reinforce that unused or expired medications should never be flushed down the sink or toilet to prevent them from leaking into waterways. Proper disposal containers should be used so that the materials can be addressed appropriately.  

Although COVID-19 has been a major disruption, life will eventually return to normal. Healthcare organizations that continue to focus on sustainability can ensure they keep progressing toward more eco-friendly operations. This will not only benefit the environment but be more attractive to consumers. More than ever, people are weighing businesses’ environmental practices when making purchasing decisions. Demonstrating a commitment to sustainability is just one more way for healthcare organizations to show patients they care.

Like other years, Stericycle is proud to welcome and support Earth Day celebrations. On April 22, 2020 and throughout the year, we stand ready to help healthcare organizations take the next step towards a greener healthcare environment. Learn about Stericycle’s commitment to sustainability here.  

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