Reflecting on recycling in hospitals

The Recycling Renewal Program, implemented in hospitals and residential care sites across the Lower Mainland between 2010 and 2016,  is preparing itself for a next phase.

The program is now in place, but sustainment of the program over the long term depends on where we focus efforts to move the program forward. In particular, we want to reduce contamination of the recycling stream and increase education and communications about what can and can’t be recycled. Here are some learnings that are helping us shape future actions:

  • Some clinical customization is necessary: signage and educational materials don’t adequately represent clinical waste items. Also, the discontinuation of soft plastic recycling was disheartening for clinical staff because medical supply packaging makes up the majority of their waste.
  • On a practical level, all waste types need to be consolidated: connect recycling education and communication efforts with garbage and biomedical waste efforts so that staff have all waste info at hand.
  • Increase ownership and accountability for the recycling program at the hospital level: the recycling program is often considered someone else’s responsibility, for instance, housekeeping. Although, housekeeping plays an important role in ensuring the containers are in place and that waste is emptied regularly, it is the generator of the waste (health care staff) and the decision they make when disposing of an item that impacts contamination.
  • Recognize that recycling is not always possible in health care: patient care comes first in many situations: ICU and emergency situations, waste from isolation room patients is all considered garbage or biomedical, and processes that put infection control first.
  • Continue to make recycling a priority: recycling and materials reduction is repeatedly considered the top environmental priority for front line staff. Moreover, we’ve heard that satisfaction with recycling is key for engaging staff further in greening the workplace.
  • Improve key messages: staff respond positively to understanding “why” they can’t recycle certain items. It seems to be the hook that’s needed to educate them what is and isn’t recyclable.

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