Strategies to Minimize Waste and Save Money in Healthcare

Businesses are all seeking efficiencies in many areas and wise companies don’t leave waste out of the equation. In this two-part series, we look at the strategies and technologies that can help hospitals and healthcare facilities save money on their waste bills.

Benefits of Implementing Waste Minimization Strategies

On average, only a quarter of medical waste is hazardous, with the vast majority being non-hazardous, general waste. And almost half of the general waste stream in healthcare facilities is composed of recyclables and food waste that can be easily separated.

By identifying strategies to minimize the amount of general waste that is being produced, healthcare facilities have the potential to make a great impact on cost savings.

So what practical strategies can healthcare facilities implement to minimize costs?

Review Your Waste Management Policies and Systems

Your organization should have a clear waste management policy in place, detailing how waste will be treated in accordance with the waste hierarchy. This policy should be supported by all levels of management and reviewed at least annually in senior meetings to ensure ongoing relevance and compliance.

Senior management engagement provides the necessary momentum for all areas and departments of the business to actively follow the guidance, reduce waste volumes and recycle more.

When reviewing your waste materials, work down the waste hierarchy to consider how each of them could be treated. This is particularly relevant for non-hazardous general waste.

  • Reduce – This involves using less material in design and manufacture. However, it can also include using less hazardous material and finding non-hazardous alternatives.
  • Reuse – This involves checking, cleaning, repairing and refurbishing whole items or spare parts.
  • Recycle – This involves separating non-hazardous, recyclable materials so that they can be turned into a new substance or product, including composting for food and other organic wastes where this meets quality protocols.

Hazardous, offensive and medicinal wastes must be subject to an alternative treatment methodology to provide protection to human health and the environment.

These treatment methods eliminate the hazardous element of the waste so that it no longer poses a risk and enables the end product to be disposed of as non-hazardous general waste. This generally also reduces the volume of waste, resulting in lower disposal costs and less waste sent to landfill. We explore this method in our technologies article

If there is no waste management policy in place, then this should be created with input from each department and the senior management team. As well as addressing waste minimization, the document should also detail the systems that will ensure safe handling and storage of clinical and hazardous waste, in accordance with relevant legislations.

Define All Recyclable Materials With Your Haulers

The materials that can be accepted for recycling may vary between haulers and locations. It’s therefore important to have a comprehensive list of the acceptable items for each facility, so that signage and training materials can be as accurate as possible.

This will keep the recycling stream clean and uncontaminated, reducing the risk of fines for contaminated recycling, and will reduce the volume of waste disposed to landfill. Since on average a third of the waste from healthcare facilities is composed of recyclable materials, effective separation of these materials offers a great cost-saving opportunity.

Everyday recyclable materials will generally be accepted in the recycling stream. There are also a number of materials generated in healthcare facilities that may also be accepted, including:

  • Composite packaging (peel pouch type packaging)
  • Composite coverings and wrappings such as those used on sterilized kits
  • Plastic containers including graduated bowls and suture kit trays


Undertake Bin Placement Audits

Design a simple audit system for individual facilities to follow. The audit should identify the types of waste generated, the locations where it is generated, and the types of bins that have been provided at each point in the facility.

The more bins that are provided, the more time and resources cleaning staff have to expend to service them. Conversely, if a general waste bin isn’t provided in an area where it is necessary, then it’s inevitable that trash will end up with the recycling or clinical waste. This risks contaminating recycling streams, or creating unnecessarily high volumes of clinical waste, at a greater cost to the business.

If no clinical or landfill waste is produced in one room or area, these bins should be removed. If waste is only generated in one particular location, that is where the bin should be located. For example, if hand towels from the sink are the only items disposed of in the landfill waste bin, this bin should be placed next to the basin. These small changes will improve material separation, limit contamination, and reduce cleaning and waste costs.

Once all changes have been made, facility site plans should be updated to indicate the exact locations of each bin, so that as staff rotates, this information isn’t lost.

Provide Appropriate Signage

Large, color-coded posters, placed directly on the containers, make for the most effective signage. The use of images to indicate common acceptable and excluded materials ensures even better separation of recyclables from waste, and general waste from clinical waste.

Many states mandate the use of multi-language signage. Even when not mandated, if you have cleaning staff whose first language is not English, then this, together with images, can improve compliance.

Consistency of signage is important, and should be considered across facilities that are located close together, especially when employees work at more than one facility.

Engage the Entire Organization

Every member of staff and management needs to be involved to some extent in order for waste minimization practices to be followed diligently and appropriate funding to be assigned.

  • Include waste management objectives in the job descriptions of cleaning and janitorial staff.
  • Engage all staff to ensure that the waste-reduction efforts are carried out collectively.
  • Integrate basic waste reduction training into general onboarding and ongoing training programs to promote awareness.
  • Reward and publicize any waste-reduction efforts made by employees.
  • Quantify and share the results of successes with the entire organization.

Review Your Suppliers

Many healthcare and medical suppliers are now making efforts to increase the proportion of recycled and recyclable materials in their packaging and single use equipment. Discuss the use of recyclable packaging with your current supplier, and when setting up new procurement RFPs, consider including criteria for the proportion of recyclable, or recycled content.

Utilize Waste Minimization Technologies

In part two of this series, we will explore the technologies that can be utilized in healthcare facilities to further reduce waste volumes.


The cost saving potential of waste minimization is significant. By taking a systematic approach across all facilities, you will ensure that your strategies are sustainably executed throughout the entire organization.

An expert waste management firm can review your processes and provide insights that you may have missed. It can also identify the strategies that will generate the greatest savings in the shortest time period, and guide facilities through the necessary steps to help them achieve your minimization goals.

Need help to make your waste minimization plans a reality? Talk to our waste experts today by calling us at 1-888-692-5005, or emailing

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