October 02, 2023

Building a Successful Healthcare Waste Sustainability Program

When implementing a waste-related sustainability program, many factors can impact positive outcomes. Healthcare organizations generate some of the most complex waste streams due to the varying types of materials and the potential hazards during handling. It is important to have awareness and applicability of the requirements as you design your program and develop a plan.  

As with any successful initiative, there are key components you should include in your program plan. You should start with clear, specific objectives and goals that align with your organization’s business objectives – and of course, have leadership support. This will require you to design a plan and proposal for leadership before implementing. The level of detail will be initiative-dependent.

A successful plan will require:

  • Understanding the capital and resources available
  • Understanding the operating framework, which should comprise of all the requirements involved
  • Developing a strategy with defined actions to achieve the program goals
  • Establishing an implementation plan to get started and maintain the program
  • Measuring against goals, with periodic reinforcement and re-evaluation as needed

Before you can start a plan, you will need to identify all key stakeholders. Key stakeholders may be internal and external to your organization. Their engagement will provide insight into workflow and support an inclusive and collaborative process. Your key stakeholders are a crucial resource to your program’s success, so it is important that your plan have well-defined roles and expectations as well as clear, consistent communication about the program, the deliverables, and its impacts.

Once you identify the key stakeholders, you will work with that group to create a more detailed program plan, which includes the elements mentioned above. Let's take a look at these elements in high-level detail.

Capital: Capital is more than just funding – it is all the resources you have available to you. It can include people, time, money, real estate, materials, technology, and knowledge, etc. Some examples include:

  • People: labour with defined role responsibilities and stakeholder support
  • Real estate: buildings or space for waste containers, storage, balers, digesters, etc.
  • Technology: capabilities for alerts on waste segregation in EMR or monitors on compactors for fill levels
  • Knowledge: subject matter expertise or training

Operating Framework: There are requirements for material use, storage, handling, and disposal. These requirements may be dictated by regulation, accreditation, industry standards and best practices, waste acceptance policies, and your organization’s business requirements and policies. These requirements establish the operating framework your program must be built within.  Regardless of the requirement, without a compliant foundation, no program is truly sustainable. Requirements may seem tedious at times; however, it is important to remember they exist to protect human health, the environment, and the economy – including your own organization’s fiscal health – which are all pillars of sustainability.

Strategy: Strategy will be based upon available capital, your operating framework, stakeholder involvement and support, and an understanding of workflows and processes that tie into this initiative. This will be the outline of how you will use all resources within your operating framework and the actions you will take to achieve your goals. 

Implementation: The implementation plan will specifically outline how you will start and maintain the program. You will define your focus areas, starting with easy wins to gain momentum. Regular communication throughout the process with all key stakeholders will be paramount.

Measure, Reinforce, and Re-evaluate: Success metrics should be defined before the start of the program to measure against your baseline and identify impact. Your plan should also be agile, with the opportunity to reassess and adjust as needed from lessons learned and potential innovations. Continued communication with all key stakeholders will be necessary to ensure long-term success.

Learn more about the role Stericycle can play in your organization’s sustainable waste management program.

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