California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Health Care Industry Waste Reduction and Recycling

Tools for Health Care Facilities: How to Get Started and Stay Focused

Before setting up a reuse, recycling and/or waste collection program, there are specific tasks you need to work through to establish a solid framework for implementing a successful, ongoing program. The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) guides you through the process of preparing, implementing, and evaluating your program.

Phase One: Preparation | Phase Two: Implementation | Phase Three: Evaluation

Phase One: Preparation

Identify Your Objectives

  • Identify the materials in your waste stream.
  • Identify existing waste reduction, reuse, and recycling programs within the hospital.
  • Identify potential areas within the hospital that could benefit from a new recycling program (potential disposal costs will be reduced and recycling participation will increase).
  • Focus on what else can be accomplished by reducing waste.
  • Highlight the (waste reduction) successes within the facility, to donors, on the facility’s website, in the local press, or in other publications.

Start Out Small and Build Upon Your Successes

Consider starting a waste reduction, reuse, and recycling collection program by initially focusing on paper and cardboard. The savings in avoided disposal costs for these bulky items makes this a cost-effective approach. As you learn the amount of paper and cardboard you need to collect, how to collect it, and how to educate staff, then you can move on to other materials.

Pre-Waste Assessment Tool

For the development of any new waste reduction, reuse, and recycling programs, you need to know the programs already in place, what materials are still in your waste stream, and the baseline of how much waste you are throwing away versus how much you are diverting. Knowing your baseline will assist you in securing support from management as you gauge your performance and reduce your bottom line. This effort is rewarding, as it often results in the identification of cost savings.

This tool will assist you in becoming familiar with how much material is being generated, disposed, and recycled (this helps establish your current diversion rate); how much money is being spent for existing collection programs, and points of contact for each department.

Customize this tool to fit your needs. For example, be sure to:

  • Find out when the cafeteria contract expires so you can start looking to incorporate some “green” concepts.
  • Obtain a floor plan with recycling bins and service areas designated “employee only” or “general population.” This will help develop the master plan for bin placement, such as next to vending machines, near doorways, and in common areas.
  • Schedule a separate meeting with each department to solicit feedback, ask questions, and learn about their specific needs, and then develop a plan that works for them.

Work with your Existing Local Hauler(s)

As a starting point, ask your Environmental Services Department to identify your haulers and product suppliers/vendors. This information may be available in the Accounting Office or at a higher level. Also, using a search function available on CalRecycle's website, you can contact your city and/or county recycling coordinator.

Consult your hauler to determine the following:

  • How much are you currently disposing of on an annual basis, in tons, for both the current year, and the previous year?
  • What is the pick-up schedule (on-call versus scheduled pick-up) for garbage and associated annual costs? Do they differ for the current year and previous year?
  • How much are you currently recycling through the hauler (versus other vendors) for both the current year and the previous year?
  • Are there additional materials that the hauler can pick up for recycling, at no charge? Can they provide additional bins or different types of collection bins to reduce dock congestion?

Work with your Existing Suppliers/Vendors (for confidential shredding, laundry, janitorial)

Consult your suppliers/vendors to determine the following:

  • What are the quantity and costs for materials being purchased?
  • What is the delivery schedule (on-call versus scheduled) and associated annual costs?
  • How often will they provide you with a report of purchases/deliveries?
  • Will they agree to reduce packaging, or use more recyclable/reusable packaging (which may also reduce dock congestion of materials)?
  • What reuse, recycling and/or backhaul services are available to you, including alternatives to current practices, cost efficiencies, and other assistance?

Diversion Rate--Why is your diversion rate important?

Calculating your diversion rate is essential before you set up a new collection program. Knowing the amount of materials being generated from your day-to-day activities, and how much of this is being disposed and recycled, gives you an idea of what is being diverted.

Diversion + Disposal = Generation
75 tons + 100 tons = 175 tons
Diversion / Generation = 43 percent Diversion Rate

Consider using the pre-waste assessment tool to calculate an extensive diversion rate for each area in the hospital.

It’s a Group Effort--Involve Your Key Players

Initiate a group meeting to discuss the pre-assessment findings; discuss goals and objectives; and analyze various department needs and challenges to learn what would be feasible. Engage all key players including department contacts, green team (if currently established), hauler/suppliers/vendors, and your city/county's recycling coordinator. CalRecycle’s Health Care Waste Team is also available to talk about ideas or to assist with troubleshooting.

Phase Two: Implementation

Conduct a Waste Assessment--Maximizes Benefits for the Hospital, Local Government, and the Environment

Once you have met with the key players, and established the commitment of each to help implement changes, do a walk-through waste assessment. Identify areas where changes could be made. Focus on what’s realistic and feasible.

Continue to Involve Key Players

Communication is key! As you continue to troubleshoot and improve your programs, be sure to continue communication with your key players, and make sure they are coordinating efforts between departments. These individuals are your “eyes” and will add insight both at a micro and macro level. Plus, this will bridge communication gaps, minimize problem areas, and maximize the talented personnel you have available. Be sure to build a relationship with your city’s Recycling Coordinator. They are interested in the success of your program because their goal is to minimize the city’s waste disposal.

Establish an Environmental Policy

An environmental policy institutionalizes your commitment and efforts to reduce and recycle the waste materials generated by your facility. A sample policy has been provided as a starting point to begin crafting a facility-specific policy.

Establish an Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy and Take Back Program

This template policy is a starting point for establishing a policy for your facility. Also review Environmentally Preferable Purchasing in Health Care for various resources regarding environmental purchasing in the health care industry.

Vendors/Suppliers/Processors/Manufacturers

CalRecycle is continuing to develop this tool. Help us build this network of collectors and recyclers of blue wrap and other plastics. Email the CalRecycle's Health Care Waste Team with additional contacts.

Establish a Green Team

Invite the key players, department contacts, and any interested staff. Schedule green team meetings every two to three months to share information and coordinate efforts.

Educate and Outreach to Staff

A critical component is educating staff and securing their participation at each step: purchasing, use of the material, and disposal/reuse/recycling of the materials. Frequently updating staff about their progress and program changes will help maximize their participation. Staff deal with the materials the most so they will have ideas of how to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

How to Get Management to Support Your Program

Once the waste assessment is completed, you will have information and figures to use in securing the support of management, Board Members, and possible donors. It is important to know what and how much waste each department (and the facility) is generating, what efforts have been (or could be) implemented, and cost figures. Emphasize potential cost savings that could be realized.

Also, make sure that these efforts are the health care facility’s efforts, not one individual’s efforts. Be sure to have a team approach . Ensure that if staff are promoted, retire or are transferred, the programs will continue to operate.

Continue Staff Education and Advertise Accomplishments

Publish Information on your facility’s internal and external website:

  • Explain your facility’s new policies and commitments.
  • Include helpful waste reduction and recycling information and tips for internal staff and management.
  • Issue news releases, and target health care publications to publicize your successes.
  • Keep program statistics current.
  • Share what you’ve accomplished with others in your industry. Collaborate where possible.
  • Apply for awards.

Get Recognized

  • WRAP. CalRecycle's Waste Reduction Awards Program (WRAP) provides annual awards to businesses and nonprofits for their waste reduction and recycling efforts.
  • As a WRAP winner, create a local press release for your city’s newspaper or health care publications.

Other Resources

Additional resources are available on this site.

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Phase Three: Evaluation

Review Programs and Policies

When you set up a program and establish a workplan, include an evaluation component to determine “gap” areas and successful areas. Start out small and build upon your successes. Continue to educate and outreach to staff, provide incentives, and reward good work.

Last updated: September 21, 2011
Health Care Waste Reduction and Recycling http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/HealthCare/
Contact: HealthCareWRR@calrecycle.ca.gov (916) 341-6199