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Reduce, reuse and recycle: the three "R"s of waste management.

The Three "R"s of Waste Management

Dartmouth College saved $80,000 last year--not with budget cuts or layoffs, but with a 19-item recycling program that also includes composting and reuse.

Evidence clearly shows that most institutions, including nursing homes, can recycle at least half of what they throw away. It takes some time, commitment, education, and awareness, but it isn't rocket science. It's simply a matter of "putting it over here instead of over there."

The potential savings are considerable and the rewards of a safer working and living environment and even a reduced workload can be reaped without changing the services you provide--simply by reducing, recycling, and reusing.

The first step is a 1- to 2-week waste audit conducted when census is average. The audit reveals exactly what's being thrown away, where it's going, and how it's getting there. Once you discover the sources of waste and costs incurred, steps can be taken to control those costs by reducing the volume of waste.

The dumpster is the best place to begin the audit. Almost all nursing home waste (except infectious waste) ends up in the dumpster, which is often rented with an additional charge paid for waste removal.

If you examine the service contract, you'll probably discover that rent is charged according to cubic yards, while disposal rates are determined by weight which is often averaged (for example, 1 cubic yard may be estimated to equal 500 pounds). If loose materials, such as empty boxes or paper towels, are included in a weight estimate, you may be paying to haul away air.

To remedy this situation, ask the hauling company to calculate actual weights or, at least, to explain how the averages are determined. That information can then be used to control what is put in the dumpster.

Start by removing items that are easily recycled. There are many markets for white paper, which can be easily segregated by staff. Most haulers will provide a separate container for cardboard which can be hauled to your local collection facility for recycling. But if recycling isn't possible, flattening the cardboard will at least reduce bulk and hauling charges.

Environmentally hazardous material, such as laser toner cartridges and batteries, can easily be collected and recycled. Because of high mercury levels, hearing aid batteries shouldn't be thrown in the trash and should never be incinerated. Fortunately, many vendors accept and even pay for their return.

Waste in the dumpster can also be reduced with reuse. Something as simple as providing all employees with their own coffee cups will remove thousands of disposable cups from the waste stream each year. Old clothing can be given to rummage or recycled into rags and mops. And the 5-gallon plastic pails that once contained cleaning solutions can always be reused: for battery collection, noninfectious sharps disposal (such as broken glass), or storage of personal items by residents or staff.

Once the dumpster has been audited, examine your "red-bagging" practices. Disposal of infectious waste is usually contracted out and is always the most costly form of disposal. But if the trash from the lunch tray is being tossed into the red bag along with the bloody gauze, that higher rate is being paid to dispose of items with no infectious properties at all.

The audit should also include an examination of purchasing habits. In my opinion, disposable items should never be purchased when reusables are available. Overpurchasing can be very costly, too, when items bought in bulk end up in the dumpster after having spent months or years occupying precious storage space.

Once the audit is completed, the housekeeping staff should be assured that a facility-wide program of reduction, recycling, and reuse will actually decrease their workload, with fewer items thrown away and only periodic emptying of recycling bins. A total quality management team approach that encourages all staff members to participate is much more likely to succeed than an edict handed down from above.

As awareness increases, many more facilities will find creative ways to reduce waste. Many institutions are already examining the creation of different waste streams for different processes, and most state environmental or natural resource agencies are providing phone numbers for local recyclers who make on-site visits.

Many New England states (New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts) have established volunteer organizations called Waste Caps, run by private businesses, business associations, or state organizations. Members are experts in waste management and recycling and make on-site visits to help interested facilities with audits and waste reduction programs free of charge. Similar organizations should be searched for and encouraged in other localities throughout the nation.
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Title Annotation:waste management in nursing homes; includes related article
Author:Hochstin, William
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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