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Understanding the different categories of general waste at hospitals

When we think of the waste generated by hospitals, what comes to mind is the potentially hazardous waste such as used dressings, needles and pathological waste from operations. But the World Health Organisation estimates that these and other hazardous materials only make up about 15% of all healthcare waste. The rest – 85% – is made up of non-hazardous general waste that is discarded by all types of large company. To ensure the efficient separation of harmful and non-harmful clinical waste materials, the collection and disposal process is important for the health sector.

It’s easy to only think of patients, doctors and nursing staff in relation to hospitals, but they are only a proportion of the people who work in and visit hospitals, all of whom produce a huge amount of general waste.

Food waste

Every hospital has cafés, restaurants and staff canteens that are used by hospital staff as well as thousands of outpatients and visitors on a daily basis.

In addition to the food available for visitors, usually in the hospital concourse, every in-patient receives three meals a day which involves a massive catering operation. And if the jokes about the quality of hospital food are to be believed (and there are plenty of press stories to back them up), there’ll probably be even more food waste to deal with than from patients whose appetites are low anyway.

So dealing with waste food is an even bigger problem for hospitals than it is for shopping mall food courts.

Paper and packaging waste

With the retail, catering and administration operations that go hand-in-hand with hospitals, there is bound to be a lot of packaging waste, much of which could be compacted or baled and sold for recycling. There is even money to be made from the sale of cardboard and plastics for recycling.

Recycling clinical waste

While the majority of clinical waste is incinerated, there are elements that can be recycled. Over the past couple of years, the Royal Gwent Hospital in Wales has been saving sterilisation wrap which is used to protect surgical instruments from contamination before they are used. The wrap is made of polypropylene which is now being recycled into products such buckets, chairs, stationery, and even ropes. Two tonnes of sterile wrap a month is being diverted from the expense of incineration for that one hospital alone. If the same process is rolled out across the NHS, it would not only save money on incineration, it could end up becoming an extra revenue stream which could be ploughed back into frontline care.



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