On April 22, 2022, the world will once again celebrate Earth Day—providing a reminder to reflect on the impact that we have on the environment and the steps we can take to safeguard it. This year’s Earth Day theme, “Invest in Our Planet,” focuses on taking action to preserve and protect our health, our families, and our livelihoods. By working together, we can take steps to shape a healthier and safer world for everyone, everywhere, every day.
Without the proper policies and practices in place, healthcare organizations have the potential to inadvertently cause harm to the environment and the local communities they serve. But, by taking appropriate actions, healthcare organizations can play an important role in safeguarding the environment.
How Do Healthcare Organizations Impact the Environment?
Hospitals, long term care facilities, ambulatory clinics, and other healthcare organizations generate millions of tons of waste annually while providing care. Healthcare organizations can inadvertently cause harm to surrounding land areas, waterways, and communities through improper waste disposal. They can also potentially increase the volume of waste heading to landfills if they do not have proper waste segregation practices aimed at increasing the recycling and reuse of materials.
In addition, healthcare organizations are often housed on large campuses that, like other businesses of similar size and scope, can have a significant ecological footprint. The health sector produces 4.4% of the world’s greenhouse gases and healthcare organizations are estimated to account for approximately 10% of annual carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. For these reasons and more, it is important that healthcare organizations embrace a sustainability mindset and actively look for ways to reduce their environmental impact.
Stericycle’s Services Can Help Healthcare Organizations Meet their Sustainability Goals
Every day, Stericycle provides essential services that treat and dispose of potentially infectious materials and help our customers safeguard their private information. We are proud of our efforts to help healthcare organizations around the world with their sustainability goals in 2021. Our reusable containers, for example, help limit the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills. For example, last year use of Stericycle’s reusable containers helped avoid the need for 104 million pounds of plastic and also diverted the same amount from landfills.
We securely collected, shredded, and recycled 1.1 billion pounds of sorted office paper, helping to protect both confidential information and the environment. Our shredding services support a circular economy, providing a valuable source of paper for products made with recycled content. The amount of paper recycled by Stericycle in 2021 is the equivalent of the paper made from approximately 9.0 million trees.
Our pharmaceutical waste solutions help facilitate the proper disposal of unused medications, keeping 40million pounds of untreated pharmaceutical waste from entering the environment in 2021. Our controlled substance waste containers also help healthcare facilities mitigate drug diversion risk. Additionally, we offer mail back envelopes and drug collection receptacles so patients can send back or drop off their unused medications, helping reduce the likelihood that drug waste will end up in the wrong hands, in the trash, or down the drain.
We also collect, transport, treat and dispose of regulated medical waste. In fact, we treated 1.5 billion pounds of medical waste in 2021. Regulated medical waste requires special treatment because the material is potentially infectious and could cause harm to the public or the environment if it were disposed untreated.
How We Address Our Own Sustainability Goals
In addition to helping healthcare organizations with their sustainability efforts, we also strive to reduce our own environmental footprint. Continuing our efforts that were started in 2020, we implemented formal tracking of natural resources used at our facilities to help estimate our baseline greenhouse gas emissions, began a multi-year LED lighting upgrade program, and continued efforts to optimize our routing.
Supporting Causes that Matter
Through our partnership with the National Park Foundation, Stericycle supports landscape and wildlife conservation, with a focus on wetland restoration. This partnership allows us to help protect waterways and the environment by directly supporting wetland restoration projects. Our partnership with the National Park Foundation will help foster a more sustainable future for the parks. Stericycle believes that a protected, safe, and inclusive outdoor environment plays an important role in individual and community well-being.
An organizations’ sustainability efforts should go beyond Earth Day and should include year-round commitments to the environment. A key strategy to consider is creating a steering committee. This group might start by assessing current waste management programs, reviewing recycling initiatives, and exploring opportunities to trim natural resource consumption or otherwise reduce environmental impacts.