Hopkins successfully reduces medical waste

By ELLE PFEFFER | May 9, 2013

Hospitals can seem like a world unto themselves — doctors flying around frantically, machines beeping everywhere —but one thing about them is pretty ordinary: they produce trash. The not so ordinary part: it’s a lot of trash.

According to Healthier Hospital Initiative (HHI), a campaign devoted to helping medical care become more sustainable, health facilities generate 11,700 tons of waste daily, averaging to about 26 pounds for each staffed bed.

A new campaign at Hopkins Hospital seeks to decrease the amount of waste produced, medical and otherwise, and has proven a success since its launch in October 2012.

In these first few months, the Hospital has decreased its overall trash production by 17 percent, largely due to better coordination and the addition of one thousand recycling bins placed around the facilities. In more concrete numbers, this is 200,000 less pounds of trash per month.

The campaign extends beyond increased recycling and tries to control the volume of regulated medical waste, or RMW. This category of waste includes products that contain any blood, body fluids or other substances that could be infectious — needles, for example.

“We removed regulated medical waste trash cans from areas that should not be producing RMW,” Kristian Hayes, the assistant director of general services for Hopkins Medicine, wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “We also rolled out an extensive education program to clinical and non-clinical staff so that they could be educated on what is truly considered RMW.”

Working under guidelines established by HHI, the Hospital challenged itself to limit RMW to 10 percent of total waste produced by the hospital.

As of March, they lowered the percentage of RMW to 14, a sizable reduction from the 34.74 percent recorded last September.

“[Our] early success is contributed to education, once people knew what was considered RMW they had no problem following the rules,” Hayes wrote. “Healthcare is driven by protocols, so our clinical staff are used to doing things in a particular way, and RMW segregation was no different.”

Similarly, Hayes attributed the easy adjustment regarding the separation of regular trash and recyclables to the staff’s familiarity with recycling at home.

This is not the first time that the Hospital has worked toward sustainable solutions for medical waste. In 2006, the Hospital used rotoclave machinery to decontaminate and shrink up to 2,600 pounds of medical waste each hour. The steam-dependent operation made the waste landfill-ready without dangerous emissions to the atmosphere.

The new trash reduction campaign was part of a larger plan by the Johns Hopkins Health System’s Sustainability Network adopted in 2011. Other measures include water, energy and natural resource conservation.

Hayes and her team worked in consultation with Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (MD H2E), an organization that provides support for sustainable development in hospitals, clinics, laboratories and other health-related facilities in Maryland.

Joan Plisko, MD H2E’s technical director, was able to provide Hayes with numerous technical resources as well as networking advice.

Even once the waste materials are properly separated, it is still important to find the proper outlet or vendor for disposal, Plisko explained.

“Many times [the hospitals] work in partnership with their vendors — with their waste management vendors….” Plisko said. “We also work to connect hospitals to other providers that are doing similar work.”

Plisko believes that the success at the Hospital will spread easily to other members of the Hopkins health system like the Bayview Medical Center in Eastern Baltimore and the Howard County General Hospital.

“In addition to doing this at the hospital, the whole health system is also looking to do similar types of efforts using the hospital as an example,” Plisko said. “The experiences that Kristin and her team have gone through can be applied to other hospitals within the health system, which is a very efficient way of doing things — so the lessons learned, transfer.”

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