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An average of 15 regulatory compliance issues involving waste management is uncovered during a typical hospital compliance review. With hospitals under daily pressure to manage at least a dozen waste streams – most of them teaming with regulations enforced by different governing agencies – it’s easy to see why facilities might struggle to keep up. Managing healthcare waste is a tough job.

Despite the challenge, successful waste management programs are gaining ground in healthcare facilities across the country – some even manage to make it look easy – as greater support, educational resource, and new and improved products and service become available. Healthcare Purchasing News takes a look at some of the new and existing challenges in healthcare waste management and how hospitals and healthcare systems are finding ways to keep up with the pace and pressure of not only achieving better regulatory compliance and reduce spending, but greener, more environmentally-aligned facilities they can be proud of.

Leave no stone unturned

Food waste shouldn’t be overlooked either-and for some facilities it can’t anymore, said Frank E. Celli, Chief Executive Officer at BioHitech America. Celli said hospital food waste is sometimes considered less of a priority because it isn’t held to the same processes or regulations as medical waste but that thinking has to change. “With upcoming legislation in specific cities and states banning food waste from landfill, food waste disposal is now becoming a priority,” Celli said. For example, effective October 1, 2014, Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection placed a ban on the disposal of commercial organic wastes by businesses and institutions that dispose of one ton or more per week.

To help hospitals comply, BioHitech America manufactures the Eco-Safe Digester, a machine that eliminates commercial food waste onsite by converting it to liquid that can be safely transported to wastewater treatment facilities via municipal sewer systems. “In areas where the cost to haul to landfill is high, many hospitals have installed onsite aerobic technology to handle the disposal of food waste without having to store it or ship it off site,” Celli said. “There are haulers that offer a composting solution, but it is rare that a hospital is able to see any true cost savings associated with this method as hauling costs continue to increase, cost of gas to move the waste around increases and many compost facilities are not within an acceptable range, defeating the environmental benefits.”
Celli said Hackensack Medical Center, NJ, uses the machine to divert 11 tons of food waste per month and has cut its food waste disposal bill in half. The Eco-Safe Digester is also paired with cloud technology to provide real-time food waste data and other metrics – a tool that helped another hospital curb food waste caused by a widespread dislike of a particular soup it was serving every week. “The food service department decided to replace that soup with a different selection, resulting in less waste thrown out from that day forward. Without this insight, savings in raw materials and waste disposal would not have been achieved.”