Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Partners Combine Forces to Tackle Shared Waste Challenges

By Better Buildings Beat Team on Mar 25, 2021

In a recent peer exchange, Better Buildings partners in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors discussed challenges and solutions related to waste reduction and diversion in the medical field. Hosted by the DOE Waste Reduction Pilot team, the event brought together over a dozen participants from Better Buildings and Better Plants partner organizations. Attendees represented a variety of healthcare institutions and pharmaceutical manufacturers across the country and the globe, including UW Health, Montefiore Medical Center, the Veterans Health Administration, AstraZeneca, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Annually, the U.S. generates 2.7 billion tons of industrial solid waste and more than 290 million tons of municipal solid waste. By reducing waste, organizations can increase efficiency, save energy, and decrease costs. DOE is working with partners in this Better Buildings pilot to better understand these linkages and opportunities.

Healthcare institutions and pharmaceutical companies face similar challenges for municipal, hazardous, and other wastes. One major area of overlap is hazardous “red bag” waste. Common in the medical field, hazardous waste exists in hospitals and medical clinics in the form of contaminated items and/or human tissues as well as pharmaceutical drug and chemical waste such as expired medications or clinical trials waste. As manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies face the same challenges in how to reduce and properly dispose of chemical and other hazardous wastes. Partners in both programs shared solutions on reducing the amount of hazardous waste (to save on landfill tonnage and costs) and the safest ways to dispose of the material.

Healthcare partners discussed solutions to reducing hazardous waste while ensuring the health and safety of patients and building occupants. Waste audits, such as this Solution at a Glance from Montefiore, can help to gain insight into what and how much material reaches the hazardous waste stream. Such audits helped to illuminate a well-meaning but incorrect common practice of deeming most materials hazardous when only 15% of hospital waste actually falls in this category.

Education and outreach programming can help educate staff on what does and does not go into the hazardous stream. Pharmaceutical partners discussed chemical sharing programs that reduce waste at the source and contribute to a circular economy within their organizations and in the industry at large – see this Solution at a Glance from Bristol-Myers Squibb to learn more.

Aside from hazardous waste, partners from both sectors seek to reduce total waste and implement circular economy principles at their various facilities – ranging from manufacturing plants to administrative offices to hospitals and medical centers. Partners discussed waste and data tracking to monitor progress. Several partners shared their work with Better Buildings Affiliate Practice Greenhealth to benchmark waste data, track progress towards their goals, and compare to their peers. As an example of this success, this resource from Practice Greenhealth presents the business case for waste management improvements in operating rooms.