Green Operating Room Waste Management

July 23, 2012

Have you thought about greening your operating rooms? An analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that improving waste management in ORs can result in cost savings and reduced environmental impact without compromising patient care.

Operating rooms produce approximately 20-33% of all waste in hospitals. In 2008, Canadian hospital activities were the second most energy-intensive activity, consuming the energy of 440,000 homes.

Figures from 2007 indicate that U.S. healthcare facilities contributed 8% of total greenhouse gas emissions and disposed of over 4 billion pounds of waste, making the sector the second-largest producer of landfill waste after the food industry.

To green your operating room, consider these strategies:

  • Create separate streams for regular trash and medical waste, as the latter requires high-energy processing, and train staff to differentiate. An estimated 50-80% of normal waste is incorrectly disposed as hazardous waste.
  • Invest in closed collection systems to discharge liquid waste into sanitary sewers, which reduces the amount of waste needing treatment.
  • Use smart monitors to reduce energy use when operating rooms are vacant.
  • Partner with medical equipment companies to promote greener packaging, as plastic packaging is a major source of needless waste.
  • Donate unused equipment to developing countries.
  • Explore alternative disposal methods to incineration, which is responsible for significant emissions of dioxin and furan in Canada.

“Operating rooms pose a particular challenge to waste management because of the need for absolute sterility,” write the authors.

“Fortunately, technologies and waste-reduction strategies have emerged that satisfy the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profits.”

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