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Reducing healthcare waste

Keeping non-infectious waste out of infectious waste containers, or source separation, is the key to reducing healthcare waste. Source separation is required for all Wisconsin infectious waste generators.

Hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, with some exceptions, must write and implement plans for reducing medical waste according to ss. NR 526.16 through 22, Wis. Adm. Code. The outline for what must be in the plan is in s. NR 526.19. For a plain language explanation of what is required, see Medical Waste Reduction and the Annual Report (WA-802) [PDF].

Healthcare facilities, unless exempt, must file an annual report on their waste reduction activities.

Items that must be recycled

Wisconsin's Recycling Law requires all businesses to recycle materials such as paper, cardboard, metals, glass, some plastics, electronics, etc. For more information about how the recycling law applies to healthcare, see Waste Reduction and Recycling: A Guide for Healthcare (WA-1150) [PDF]. Please note that since the date of publication, additional materials have been added to the list of materials banned from landfills in Wisconsin.

Ways to reduce healthcare waste

Here are some simple ideas that can keep non-infectious waste out of infectious waste containers.

  • Provide proper containers for all wastes that might be generated in a room.
  • Put signs on all waste containers stating what can and cannot be put in them.
  • Keep infectious waste containers away from sinks to keep paper towels out.
  • Remove infectious waste containers from public areas, label them "For staff use only" and have only small infectious waste bags available in the cabinets of patients' rooms.
  • Train employees at least annually about what is and is not infectious waste.
  • Train employees in small groups to encourage questions about specific items. By doing this, one Wisconsin facility cut its infectious waste generation rate in half.
  • Visually inspect waste containers often. Correct mistakes immediately and reward compliance.
  • Use suction systems that either flush liquid wastes directly to the sewer or involve reusable suction canisters. Solidifying Infectious Waste (WA-1329) [PDF] discusses the pros and cons of flushing versus solidifying suction canister waste.

Healthcare-specific resources

Last revised: Thursday November 16 2017