Objectives of Hospital Waste Management

by Jim Molis; Updated March 15, 2018

Hazardous waste accounts for 10 to 25 percent of the waste produced by a hospital. Nonhazardous, general waste accounts for the rest. Hospitals reduce health and environmental risks through waste management policies and procedures. The ultimate objective is to protect public health and the environment.

Assess Needs

Estimating the amount, type and source of waste helps hospitals manage its collection, handling and disposal. Data can come from surveys and interviews with employees. Hospitals also may weigh and measure waste.

Develop Plans

Hospitals often convene committees to form waste management plans. They typically include representatives from different departments so that the hospital can address needs holistically. Plans commonly include:

  • Location and organization of collection and storage facilities
  • Design specifications for the collection methods, such as bags, containers and carts
  • Required material and human resources
  • Assignment of responsibilities for specific personnel
  • Procedures and practices, such as how waste is segregated and stored

Form Teams

Waste management teams usually are in charge of a plan’s implementation. Team members typically include one or more of the following:

  • Hospital manager
  • Waste management officer
  • Department heads
  • Infection control officer
  • Finance controller

Classify Waste

Determining whether waste is hazardous affects how it is handled. If, for example, disease can be transmitted if an item is not handled or disposed of properly, then that waste is deemed hazardous. Types of hazardous medical waste include:

  • Infectious
  • Pathological
  • Sharps
  • Chemicals
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Genotoxic
  • Radioactive

Provide Adequate Collection Points

Hospitals use waste-generation data to establish baselines for rates of generation in different medical areas and for procurement specifications. Knowing how much they have to collect, hospitals can determine the type, capacity and quantity of containers. The total number of beds is often used to estimate the amount of waste generated per bed per day.

Factors affecting the rate of waste generation, include:

  • Level of activity in terms of occupied beds and number of staff
  • Department type
  • Hospital location, rural or urban
  • Regulations or policies on waste classification
  • Segregation practices

Recycle Materials

Hospitals recycle nonhazardous waste when possible. Commonly recycled materials include:

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Plastic water bottles
  • Shipping materials
  • Office paper
  • Aluminum cans

Reduce Health Risks

Waste management is primarily designed to protect the health of people, including hospital workers and those who either handle such waste or are exposed to it as a consequence of careless actions. The main groups of people at risk are:

  • Medical doctors
  • Nurses
  • Volunteers
  • Maintenance personnel
  • Patients
  • Visitors
  • Workers transporting waste to a treatment or disposal facility
  • Workers in waste-management facilities such as landfills and treatment plants

Manage Environmental Impact

Medical waste can damage the environment through the release of pathogens and toxic pollutants. For example, landfills where waste is disposed of improperly can contaminate drinking water, and the incineration of materials can generate human carcinogens.

About the Author

Jim Molis started his writing career in 1994 as a freelancer for New England newspapers. As a journalist, he won awards as a writer and editor for business publications, including "The Bond Buyer," "Atlanta Business Chronicle" and the "Jacksonville Business Journal." He has a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Stonehill College in North Easton, Mass.

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