Did you know that 9% of all global waste comes from hospitals? And did you know that 25-35% of this comes from the operating room? It should be clear that this is a major problem where a lot of sustainability gains can be made. Our challenge was thus: “How do we avoid generating so much residual waste in our operating room?” Reducing waste can be done in different ways, but our focus was on recycling waste. During this project we performed a waste analysis, made a step-by-step plan in the form of a flowchart and built a supporting e-learning.

waste analysis
To carry out the waste analysis, clean plastic was collected for a week in the OR of the Medisch Spectrum Twente (MST). Afterwards, a few garbage bags were opened and analyzed to find out which types of plastic are commonly used in the OR. In addition, this campaign also gave us insight into what employees think about separating waste and their current knowledge of this subject. The waste analysis showed that cloths made of polypropylene (PP) are significantly the most common clean packaging material. These cloths are used in the OR to wrap instrument sets. This was an interesting outcome because PP is an easily recyclable type of plastic and the cloths can be easily distinguished from other types of plastic, such as transparent plastic packaging material. This makes it easier for the employees, who indicate that distinguishing what was covered by plastic turned out to be a challenge.

This is of course a nice first step, but permanent recycling still has a few snags. For example, more containers are needed, which in turn complicates logistics. In addition, there must be a destination for the collected waste where it can be used usefully and sustainably. All in all, there are many things to think about and because this can sometimes get a bit complicated, we have made a flowchart to make the recycling process clear. This flowchart is divided into a logistics branch, a waste processing branch and a finance branch. For example, a hospital department can see which part they get stuck on and are pointed out there to possible solutions to their problems. An e-learning has also been built to explain the steps of the flowchart and this e-learning also makes the users think about the matter themselves.

The flowchart and e-learning are currently being implemented in the OR of the MST, but the ultimate goal is to use it in more departments and in more hospitals. By applying this strategy in more places, we hope that more knowledge will be exchanged to optimize the step-by-step plan even more. All in all, we have made a start on making the hospital more sustainable and we hope that this is just the start of a major solution.

– Ewout Ligtenberg and Nienke Buskens