- Cleveland Clinic Shares Lessons In Waste Diversion
Fighting Contamination In Recycling
Contamination is always an issue in a hospital, but not always because of biohazards.
“Our contamination is caused by food and drink soiling otherwise recyclable materials, or from caregivers or patients putting non-recyclables in the recycling bin,” says Utech.
The clinic has been offering more recycling education, including more detailed signage, better outreach to caregivers, and hands-on lunch-and-learns to help overcome contamination.
One might imagine that training more than 50,000 employees on any new waste management project, or even something as simple as what can be recycled, would be a challenge in any type of facility. Add to that the sheer size and diversity of Cleveland Clinic’s waste stream, and the challenge becomes amplified.
Cleveland Clinic educates their caregivers using a variety of methods. Signage is used in break rooms, including rotating signage displayed on monitors around the system. The Waste Management Office website also has “Know Where To Throw” information to help specify which plastics and materials are actually recyclable. The medical center holds caregiver events, such as a big event on Earth Day, with fun hands-on activities. One favorite activity involves placing a myriad of items on a table and asking participants what is recyclable.
“This has been a great method to engage caregivers, while expanding their understanding of what can and can’t be recycled and why,” says Utech.
Repurposing and donating waste contributes to the medical center’s impressive diversion rates. The hospital has found select opportunities to safely reuse, reprocess or re-manufacture products in both clinical and non-clinical environments. The hospital now uses only reusable cases to sterilize instruments, for example. In addition, Cleveland Clinic works with Habitat for Humanity and other local nonprofits and schools to repurpose furniture and other building materials.
Source reduction is an integral part of Cleveland Clinic’s waste management program, and a surefire way to get to zero waste by any standard. A Just in Time (JIT) strategy controls supply chain costs and improves operational efficiency by only maintaining lean inventories. The hospital’s JIT inventory program, Valulink, only delivers goods from an off-site central warehouse location when they are requested, minimizing inventory costs, reducing the chance of expired and unused products and cutting down on excess packaging materials.
“While this can be effective, healthcare’s demands can also be unpredictable, so we always need to have some extra stock on hand in case of an unforeseen need,” says Utech.
From crowded cafeterias to busy ORs, waste comes from every corner of a hospital. Keeping up with the competing waste streams is no easy task, but when a medical center is able to pay attention, secure the right partnerships and work toward a zero waste goal, everybody benefits. The hospital’s bottom line benefits from less waste, the community is bolstered by partnerships and donation programs, and housekeeping staff can work more efficiently.
The programs within Cleveland Clinic’s Waste Management Office all started when one source of waste was identified, and then an entire sustainability program with zero waste goals snowballed from there. Taking the first step could mean a long list of benefits to the environment and any hospital ready to begin.
NICOLE BOWMAN is a freelancer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Cleveland Clinic Shares Lessons In Waste Diversion