11 March 2019
State legislatures are considering initiatives to reduce use of single-use plastic bags in various businesses. Some states have already introduced bans or related fees to discourage use of single-use plastic bags at retail businesses and industries far and wide are recognizing that their industry may be next to experience legislation limiting single-use plastics. Testament to the growing concern, “single-use” was Collins Dictionary Word of the Year in 2018, chosen among 4.5 billion other words in their database due to its increasing interest across the globe.
As health care organizations explore ways to help preserve the environment, one area to consider is single-use plastic bag usage. When plastic bags are not appropriately recycled, they add to an organization’s environmental footprint, especially when large quantities are used. Plastics often play integral roles in health care settings as essential components of medical advancements and their use are best practice in various processes. This makes it even more important for the health care industry in particular to take a good look at reducing the use of single-use plastic when it’s not required for best patient care.
There are also several operational reasons why health care organizations should reduce their reliance on plastic bags. For one, these bags often mingle with other recyclable waste streams and gum up sorting and processing equipment, making it challenging for recyclers to effectively and efficiently treat other material.
When plastic bags are not recycled, they are slow to decompose. Although there are various statistics on the exact amount of time it takes for a bag to biodegrade, there is general consensus that plastic remains in landfills and waterways for significantly longer than desired. Wildlife frequently mistake bags for food and ingest the material, which can have devasting impacts on the surrounding ecosystem.
Many organizations have started implementing initiatives to reduce or limit the use of plastic bags within their facilities. The most effective way to reduce your organization’s reliance on plastic bags is to find alternative, reusable options that can serve the same purpose. For example, some Stericycle partners use portable plastic buckets instead of plastic bags for patient belongings. The buckets are easily wiped down with a sanitizing agent after use and employed over and over, minimizing waste.
If deploying reusable containers is not an option, organizations should consider plastic bags made of recyclable material, such as low-density polyethylene. Easily-accessible collection areas for these recyclable bags allow staff to quickly and appropriately dispose of them. Keep in mind that if the bag contains debris that cannot be removed before disposal, the bag should be disposed as municipal waste (regular trash).
While limiting the use of plastic bags is important for many health care organizations, it’s only one component of a comprehensive sustainability strategy. By taking proactive steps to incorporate green initiatives to reuse, reduce and recycle when possible, your organization will be on the way to fostering a safer and sustainable ecosystem in your community and beyond. Stericycle’s commitment to the environment can help take your organization’s program to the next level.
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