Don’t Waste the Medical Waste: Reducing Improperly Classified Hazardous Waste in a Medical Facility

(1) Centennial High School, Ellicott City, Maryland, (2) The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland

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Hospitals in the United States generate over one million tons of waste each year, approximately a quarter of which is classified as hazardous medical waste. There are environmental, infectious, and financial burdens associated with this waste, and those burdens increase significantly when the waste is hazardous. Managing waste can be difficult, but training is an effective approach to reducing waste. We conducted a quality improvement project at the Johns Hopkins Hospital Pathology Core Laboratory from 2015 through 2017. We hypothesized that improved staff training is an effective way to reduce the amount of general waste in a medical facility that is incorrectly classified as hazardous. Two interventions were identified and implemented, the first being a series of classroom-based training sessions and the second being a simple informational poster that was displayed over waste bins. The impact of the training and posters was measured by two surveys that were performed before and after the interventions. The first survey was a web-based instrument that was completed by laboratory staff, while the second survey was observational and measured how many bins contained improperly disposed waste. Some of the data from these interventions supports the hypothesis. The observational survey, in particular, recorded an increase in proper waste disposal from 7.5% to 71.9% following the classroom intervention. Future studies can help determine if these improvements can be increased and sustained over time by assessing the cost and benefit of different interventions and measuring how long the gains from each can be sustained.

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medical waste survey