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Medical Waste

Although regulated medical waste (RMW) makes up a small portion (15 percent) of a healthcare facility’s waste stream, the costs of handling and disposing of RMW can be enormous. Waste audits at many facilities have found a substantial volume of the RMW stream to actually be regular “solid” waste or non-regulated medical waste (NRMW). Minimizing the amount of NRMW entering the RMW or “red bag” stream can be a challenge, but developing and maintaining an effective program can save your facility a considerable amount of money.

Whether you are creating a RMW minimization plan internally or using a consultant, the following are some base waste prevention strategies to consider before you begin:

Educate staff. No matter what type of strategy or policy your facility implements, if the staff is not well trained and routinely updated about what is or is not supposed to go into an RMW container, your minimization plan will more than likely fail. Create an internal publicity campaign and involve the staff from the departments most affected (such as Environmental Services, Nursing, Infection Control, and Administration) in decision making and performance tracking. Provide feedback to staff about achievements and problems.

Where appropriate, collect RMW and sharps in reusable containers. Replacing red bags and single-use corrugated boxes with a service that provides reusable RMW and sharps-collection containers with restrictive lids can work to prevent NRMW and recyclables from entering the RMW stream. These containers are cleaned and sterilized off-site by a vendor and returned for reuse, thus also lowering internal purchasing and labor costs.

The New York State Public Health Law requires hospitals and nursing homes to accept sharps, including syringes and lancets from residents provided the materials are brought in a puncture proof container.

Minimize RMW collection locations and increase NRMW and recyclable collection locations. Reducing the number of containers designated for RMW reduces the likelihood of staff discarding NRMW like wrappers, paper towels, cups, or recyclables into the closest available container.

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