Technologies to Minimize Waste and Save Money In Healthcare
In the first article of our two-part series on improving profitability through effective waste management and minimization, we looked at the strategies that healthcare facilities can utilize to drive efficiencies. In this second article, we turn our attention to the technologies that can drive significant savings in your waste bills.
Reverse Osmosis Treatment of Wastewater in Hemodialysis
Over 383,900 individuals in the U.S. undergo maintenance hemodialysis, with patients being exposed to between 300 and 600 liters of water depending on their prescription. For healthcare facilities offering dialysis treatment, Reverse Osmosis technology offers a great cost saving potential.
Reverse osmosis is a water treatment technology that incorporates the use of a semipermeable membrane to remove impurities from water. It can eliminate over 99% of contaminants from water, including dissolved solids, organics and bacteria.
In reverse osmosis processing systems, a pump creates pressure, which forces the wastewater through a semipermeable membrane against its natural flow. The water molecules pass into a purified water tank and contaminants are held back to be safely disposed of, or recycled in other processes.
Reverse osmosis systems typically pay themselves back within two years when installed retrospectively into existing dialysis units. The payback period can be as fast as 4 months when water recovery is designed into the unit from the start.
Alternative Technologies For The Treatment of Medical Waste
Autoclaves are closed chambers that apply heat, or a combination of pressure and steam, to sterilize medical equipment. They have a long history of being used to sterilize medical instruments such as surgical knives and clamps for reuse.
For medical waste that must be disposed of, autoclaves can be used to destroy microorganisms before disposal to a traditional landfill. Autoclaves are a “chemical free” treatment technology, which makes them appealing to healthcare facilities.
Autoclaved medical waste can be compacted after it has cooled. The material may first be shredded before compression takes place. The compaction process greatly reduces the volume of the treated waste, resulting in fewer hauls and lower waste disposal fees.
High Temperature Treatment
Incineration is the most commonly used high temperature treatment for infectious waste, being a simpler technology than pyrolysis or gasification. Incinerators suitable for hazardous waste, whether that is of an infectious or medical nature, typically have a primary chamber that operates at 1,400-1,800oF and a secondary chamber that operates at a minimum temperature of 2,000oF.
If you are paying a high fee to haul these hazardous waste materials to a specialist disposal site, on-site incineration can represent a cost-saving alternative. Additionally, the steam generated by the incinerator may be used to heat nearby buildings, reducing the facility’s energy bills.
Microwave treatment is an emerging technology to treat bio-hazardous waste, including the material produced by healthcare facilities. As with other alternative treatment technologies, it circumvents the costs of storage, transportation and external treatment of clinical waste, and therefore will reduce waste bills substantially.
Microwave treatment sterilizes all liquids and solids – including sharp needles, and surgical utensils. The technology presents a possibility to save energy costs in comparison to the more widely used autoclaves, although initial capital costs are still relatively high. It requires no consumables other than a standard power supply, and produces no dangerous emissions during the sterilization process. With minimal material handling required, it can also reduce the risk of contamination from bio-hazardous material.
Technologies to Reduce Waste Volumes
Several of the alternative treatment technologies described above allow for the resulting waste product to be shredded. This has two beneficial effects. Firstly, it serves to make offensive or confidential waste indiscernible, and secondly it reduces the volume of the waste, lowering the costs of storage, transportation and disposal.
Slow speed, high torque shredders can be used on a wide range of medical grade materials, from fabrics to glass and stainless steel instruments. When utilized for bulky autoclaved waste, these shredders can reduce the volume of material destined for landfill by as much as 70%, while rendering all materials unrecognizable. Some models also include dedicated sharps shredders for safe disposal of needles and syringes.
Shredding is also necessary for the confidential disposal of medical records. Some high-volume healthcare facilities may find it cost-effective to shred on-site, rather than contract a confidential waste disposal partner.
About 85% of the waste generated by healthcare facilities is general, non-hazardous waste. Of this, approximately a third is dry recyclable material. After efforts have been made to minimize this fraction of your waste, your facilities may find that they still have considerable volumes of cardboard and plastics remaining. Balers can effectively reduce these material volumes, decreasing site storage requirements and collection fees.
Vertical balers can handle small to medium volumes of waste and can be operated by a single person, while stockroom balers may be a suitable option for smaller applications, due to their small operational footprint.
If your facilities generate large volumes of general waste, then a correctly specified compactor will reduce storage requirements and improve the efficiency of waste operations by reducing collection frequencies. This has the potential to generate healthy cost savings for your business.
Self-contained compactors are best suited to hospital and large healthcare facility environments. They are safe and easy to operate, and are designed to handle large volumes of compactable wet waste. The compactor and receiver container are one complete unit, which is serviced by a roll-off truck.
As these two articles have shown, there are many strategic and technological solutions to help healthcare facilities to reduce waste volumes and bills. The toughest challenge is to know which of these will generate the best ROI in the shortest time period.
An expert waste management firm will identify and source the technologies that are right for your specific challenges, so that you can be confident that they’ll pay themselves back quickly. It will also help individual sites to implement the strategies that can generate significant savings for your business.
If you want to minimize the amount of waste that your facilities produce, speak to our waste experts. Contact us today at 1-888-692-5005, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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