April 25, 2023

Reducing Environmental Impact by Improving Healthcare Waste Management

The creation of waste is inevitable. U.S. residents, organizations, and human activities all generate waste. However, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the effects associated with waste vary and are influenced by the substances or chemicals found in it and how it is managed, which determines its impact on the environment.

Hospitals in the US produce, on average, 5 million tons of waste per year. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that out of the total amount of waste generated by healthcare activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste, and the remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic, or radioactive. The proper disposal of healthcare waste is important. If it is not disposed of correctly, it can leach into surrounding waterways and areas of land, potentially causing harm to the environment.

In addition to posing a risk to the environment, healthcare waste can cause health problems for patients, healthcare workers, and the general public. Other hazards of medical waste include the spread of drug-resistant microorganisms from healthcare facilities into the environment, sharps-inflicted injuries, and toxic exposure to pharmaceuticals. For these reasons, efficient and compliant management of healthcare waste can help prevent the adverse effects of healthcare waste on people’s health and the environment.

Segregation and Proper Disposal of Waste: An Organizational Priority

Healthcare organizations have the vital role of helping maintain the well-being of their surrounding communities. This responsibility includes strengthening sustainable organizational practices to positively impact the environment.

Stericycle’s 2022 Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report reveals the results of the second annual survey of U.S. healthcare providers and administrators to better understand how safety standards in the environment of care can impact the quality of care. Those surveyed agree that sustainable environmental practices benefit the health of an overall community and can be linked to positive patient outcomes. In addition, while most administrators (81%) believe their organization is doing enough to reduce its environmental impact through proper waste disposal, just half of the providers (52%) feel the same.

A thoughtfully designed waste program is critical to managing and ultimately reducing waste output. Efficient segregation of medical waste can benefit healthcare organizations and the communities they serve in multiple ways. Proper waste segregation helps mitigate environmental impacts. For example, disposing of pharmaceutical waste down a drain, rather than segregating it for incineration, can result in active pharmaceutical ingredients in surface or drinking waters, which can cause harm to humans, animals, or plant life. To help mitigate these and other impacts, healthcare organizations should ensure that the various waste streams they produce are identified and appropriately managed.

To learn more, download our infographic to dive deeper into:

  • Perspectives of healthcare providers and administrators on the environmental impact of the industry.
  • Changes in their perceptions from the previous year.
  • Views and thoughts on sustainability initiatives and goals.

Learn more about how Stericycle can help your organization with its waste segregation and disposal needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the primary sources of waste in healthcare?

Proper disposal of regulated medical waste (RMW) generated during patient care is critical to helping ensure a safe and healthy environment for healthcare workers and patients.

Healthcare waste management requires attention and diligence to help avoid adverse health outcomes associated with poor management, including potential exposure to infectious agents.

Some of the main sources of healthcare waste are:

  • Hospitals and other healthcare facilities
  • Laboratories and medical research centers
  • Mortuaries and autopsy centers
  • Blood banks and blood drive events
  • Nursing homes

What types of waste does the healthcare industry produce?

The healthcare industry produces a variety of different wastes, including but not limited to:

  • Infectious waste
  • Pathological waste
  • Sharps waste
  • Chemical waste
  • Cytotoxic waste
  • Radioactive waste
  • Non-hazardous or general waste

What is the Integrated Waste Stream Solutions (IWSS) program, and how does it benefit healthcare organizations?

An organization can simplify and optimize its regulated waste program by working with one partner that incorporates a holistic approach across all regulated waste streams. A trusted partner can also measure the total waste stream mix and volumes over time, identifying data-driven improvements that organizations can implement.

Stericycle can help healthcare facilities streamline their waste management program with its Integrated Waste Stream Solutions (IWSS) Service, which is a single-source option that offers:

  • On-site partnership with Stericycle technicians assisting with waste container management.
  • Education and continuous improvement resources, from in-person training sessions to online tools.
  • Custom analytics and reporting with analysis, identifying continuous improvement and progress toward an organization’s sustainability goals.

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