Case Study

Stanford Medical Center

Stanford Healthcare partnered with the Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council in Summer 2012 to conduct a pilot study documenting the following:

  • Recyclable material type, volume, and flow through target departments in the hospital

  • Clinical recycling process, including lessons learned and process recommendations

  • Process of establishing a recycling program within the clinical setting

Plastics represented nearly 70 percent of all recyclable materials analyzed during the pilot study.

With over 20,000 pounds of plastics collected, the pilot case study facilitated a better understanding of plastics in the medical waste stream and best practices in collection, transport, and minimizing potential for contamination. With this understanding, HPRC aims to help further develop a national recycling system that is safe, repeatable, economically viable and environmentally sound through long-term landfill avoidance.

Clinical Recycling Process Overview

The Stanford/ HPRC study focused on clean, dry, recyclable packaging material collected from targeted clinical areas. The process starts at packaging design, moves through sorting and organization within the hospital, and ends with the actual recycling of the plastics–converting them into new materials.

Waste Audit Process

Waste audits were conducted as part of thew initiation and maintenance of the clinical recycling programs (noted in data as either ‘Quality Waste Audit’, or, ‘Initial Waste Audit’, respectively). The audits, performed over a specific time-frame in each department, between 24 and 48 hours, offer a snapshot in time of departmental waste profile.

The clinical recycling pilot study results are significant. In the hospital’s nine target areas alone, approximately 110 tons of clean, dry packaging material will be diverted from landfill in one year, representing a 29% diversion rate. Plastics account for roughly 75% of all recyclables studied in the nine target clinical areas. The plastics are generated largely during case setup in sterile environments, offering pristine materials for collection as recyclables.

Process Recommendations for Successful Recycling

1. Minimize additional processing at each step of waste management

Minimize labor demands associated with recycling along each step of the waste management process. Stanford makes recycling convenient for each waste processor in the following ways:​

  • Folding recycling into existing waste management process

  • Reducing number of environmental services waste collection rounds necessary in recycling zones once activated

  • Negotiating collection of film plastic peel packs whole (un-separated)

2. Collect waste at point of generation

By assessing waste flow and placing collection bins in these areas (procedural areas and patient care areas) , we capture valuable recyclables while limiting access to recycling bins in this high-traffic department, minimizing contamination.

3. Provide visual cues at every step of the process

Stanford has established collection bins (blue with chasing arrows) and bags (mint green specialty bags) that visually cue recycling along each step of the clinical waste management process. Recycling guide posters and labels are placed in highly visible areas on or near recycling bins. In the fast-paced flow of hospital clinical and operations setting, increased visibility establishes and maintains awareness, maximizing quality.

Financial Benefits of Waste Diversion

Stanford Hospital & Clinics’ comprehensive waste minimization program directly reduces operational expenses, benefiting the organization’s bottom line. The commingled recycling program developed in partnership with Greenwaste offers a 75% cost savings per open-container pull, compared with municipal waste disposal costs.

Full Case Study: Stanford Medical Center