Taking out the ‘trash’ means big savings for local hospital

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Rajiv Ramchandra

What doesn’t belong? A soda bottle pitched in a regulated medical waste bag drives up the cost of disposing hazardous trash. The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute conducted an environmental assessment at Rochester General Hospital, resulting in cost savings for the hospital.

Rochester General Hospital has saved nearly $185,000 in the cost of regulated medical waste disposal since 2010, following a waste-assessment study and training program conducted by the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. The potential annual cost savings for the entire hospital could be as high as $200,000.

“The Pollution Prevention Institute has an overall goal and mission to reduce the environmental footprint in New York state,” says Anahita Williamson, director of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at RIT. “In early 2010, we had an opportunity to meet with RGH and saw opportunities for collaboration on sustainability and environmental reduction initiatives. A need was identified to highlight the benefits of proper waste segregation practices and a training program was developed and deployed by NYSP2I and RGH through funding from the RIT-RGHS Alliance.” 

Rajiv Ramchandra, staff engineer at NYSP2I, tracked the hospital’s waste flow from June to October 2010. He and then-co-op student Andrew Harlan ’11 (packaging science) assessed three days worth of regulated medical waste—red bags containing blood-soaked items, surgical waste, cultures, etc.—collected from the pediatric emergency department and a nursing floor. They searched for improperly disposed municipal solid waste—the odd soda bottle, toothbrush, tissue and food—that unnecessarily increased the volume of regulated medical waste and the disposal cost. 

“There was no issue in terms of regulated medical waste ending up in the municipal waste stream,” Ramchandra says. “The hospital is very focused on that.” 

Their concern was regular trash ending up in the wrong bags. 

“We visually examined each regulated waste bag and did a count of what we saw,” Ramchandra says. “We weighed the bag and then we counted how many things we saw that were not regulated, like soda bottles for example, packaging and food waste.”

The project gave Ramchandra “a snapshot in time” of waste disposal habits at the hospital, and what he found surprised him. 

“There was a lot of contamination in terms of municipal solid waste ending up in the regulated medical waste stream,” he says. “That was one of the biggest discoveries—when we saw that in many cases, half the bag was just municipal solid waste.” 

“The cost of disposing regulated medical waste is energy intensive and 10 times more expensive,” adds Scott Sleeper, director of environmental services at Rochester General Hospital.

According to Ramchandra, processing regular trash as regulated medical waste is an avoidable expense. “Over 50 percent of the regulated medical waste could have municipal solid waste mixed in with it,” he says. “The cost savings for the entire hospital could be as high as $200,000 annually.”

Ramchandra identified ways to reduce waste and improve waste segregation through employing training and education. The RIT-RGHS Alliance funded a training program for the hospital’s physicians, nurses and custodial staff that included posters, brochures, small-group presentations and a video, starring hospital staff.

Sleeper and Wayne Morton, environmental health and safety manager at Rochester General Hospital, helped reinforce the message at the hospital. 

“The reduction of regulated medical waste is a win-win,” Morton says. “It shows good stewardship of the environment. It’s good for the hospital. It’s good for public relations. It’s good for finances. It’s good for a lot of reasons.” 

The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute is headquartered at RIT and is a partnership between RIT, Clarkson University, Renssaelaer Polytechnic Institute, University at Buffalo and 10 New York State Regional Technology Development Centers.