According to the American Hospital Association, there are 951,045 staffed hospital beds in the country, totaling about 5.9 million tons of garbage annually. Hospitals and healthcare facilities have begun to understand their impact on the environment and use sustainability not only as a way to save the planet, but as a way to improve healthcare, lower operating costs and adhere to a patient’s needs and wants. In fact, sustainability is so important to healthcare that 35 percent of hospitals switched suppliers due to additional eco-friendly and sustainable aspects and 58 percent of buyers shared it was extremely important for their healthcare products and supplies to be green.
Hospitals are starting to place greater emphasis on greener products for use. Notable systems like Innova Health, Dignity Health and John Hopkins are even working to combat plastic pollution by eliminating plastic straws and switching to paper straws in their cafeteria facilities. While there have been improvements, there is still plenty of room for the industry to grow. Below are a few ways hospitals and healthcare facilities can go green in 2020.
Continue to educate employees
Educating employees on ways to reduce waste during their everyday work and practice is the first step. If a whole staff is involved in creating a sustainable environment through recycling, reusing and working with eco-friendly products, the changes can have a surprising impact. The adjustment can start at any level, but leaders and executives of departments and facilities should enable their teams to go green. For example, switching to electronic document systems for patients can reduce paper waste, save money and time. Additionally, executives can enforce recycling materials, turning off lights and creating a sustainable waste management strategy for waste, chemicals and water.
Create a greenspace
Greenspaces have gained interest in recent years as hospitals and healthcare facilities are using these areas to help their patients heal. Greenspaces can serve multiple purposes, including benefiting patients and promoting sustainability through the creation of gardens, parks, and outdoor areas. Believe it or not, the spaces climate change. The soil absorbs carbon from the air, helping reduce carbon emissions. These benefits make greenspaces and outdoor areas perfect for the health, wellness and sustainability of hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Do away with single-use plastic
Notable systems like Innova Health, Dignity Health and John Hopkins are just a few of the vast amount of facilities eliminating plastic straws and switching to paper straws in their cafeterias. . Before the switch from plastic to paper, these healthcare systems were each using around 4 million straws a year.
Single-use plastics including straws, stirrers, bags and utensils can endanger marine life, particularly sea turtles. Scientific Reports stated the mass of detritus in the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains an estimated 79,000 tons of plastic. Ocean Cleanup Foundation shared sea turtles caught near the patch were eating so much plastic that it made up around three-quarters of their diet.
Despite these shocking statistics, acknowledging that plastic straws are essential for disabled individuals and patients is extremely important. Hospitals should stock plastic straws when necessary.
Keep harmful items out of the environment
Of the total amount of waste generated by healthcare activities, about 85% is non-hazardous waste. The other 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive, according to The World Health Organization. These materials can be harmful to the environment if not disposed properly as these substances penetrate the surrounding landfills and waterways. Not only are these materials damaging for our ecosystem, but they can impact communities and individuals negatively.
This is why it is imperative for hospitals and healthcare facilities to create a sustainable way to dispose of their hazardous materials. The first step is for organizations to promote practices that reduce the volume of waste generated and ensure proper waste removal. Selecting safe and environmentally friendly management options protects people from hazards when collecting, handling, storing, transporting, treating or disposing of waste.
Studies show that 93% of global citizens will have a positive image of the company while 90% are more likely to trust that company if they support social or environmental issues. Hospitals may not think consumers are worrying about their care from an eco-friendly lens, but as the sustainability movement powers forward, it will be an aspect of healthcare that they come to not only appreciate but expect.
Andy Romjue is President of Hoffmaster Foodservices, parent company of Aardvark Paper Straws.