A quick guide to get the most out of recycling in the OR

Kim Taylor · · 4 min read

Oftentimes, the first thing people tell me when I ask about the sustainability of their OR, is whether or not they recycle their waste. Because most people recycle their waste at home, it feels like a logical step to recycle waste at work as well. However, recycling in a healthcare environment is not as straightforward as it is at home. A couple of things have to be considered when recycling waste in the OR.

For this blog post, I discussed the topic with Talitha Hoppe, scrub nurse at OLVG in Amsterdam. Read her valuable insights below.

Talitha Hoppe

Clean vs contaminated

Most waste handlers only collect clean waste for recycling. Some specialised companies also collect contaminated waste (mostly disposable instruments). Most ORs start with recycling their clean waste. This means that only products that have not been in contact with a patient can be recycled. In practice, this only leaves packaging material suitable for recycling. This type of waste is mostly produced in the preparation room and not the actual operating theatre. Most packaging material is plastic, even when it looks like paper (this is oftentimes plastic as well). Whether all different plastic types – this can be up to tens of different types! – can be collected in one bin or have to be segregated, is up to your waste handler. Talitha also highlights:

“We recycle many different products, such as paper, batteries, and some disposable instruments. Our waste handler is bound to rules set by the municipality. Therefore, not all waste that we want to recycle, can actually be recycled. It is very important to discuss the possibilities with your waste handler, in order to prevent disappointment. If you’re not satisfied with your waste handler, find out if you can switch after the contract duration has expired.”

Boat to Indonesia

A debate heard oftentimes about recycling, is whether the waste will actually be recycled. You don’t want to put effort (and money) into collecting your waste in different waste streams and have the waste handler put everything on one big incineration pile. Or have your segregated waste be exported on a boat to Indonesia where it will be incinerated. Whether this situation applies to you, depends on the rules in your country. Your waste manager can tell you more about this! Talitha also mentions:

“Some colleagues are very skeptical when it comes to recycling. I tend to not give that too much attention. Once they see how much it can gain us, in terms of work satisfaction and sustainability, they will follow as well. Don’t spend your energy on negativity!”

Is recycling worth it?

In the end, is recycling worth it? In my opinion, yes. It contributes to a circular economy, which we will need to achieve in the near future. Furthermore, it is a very visible sustainable intervention. A truly sustainable OR has many different sustainable interventions in place, some visible and some invisible. Recycling shows that sustainability has an important place in your department. However, it is not the endpoint! Have a look at 9 other actions you can take to make your OR more sustainable.

How to get started

Arrange a meeting with your waste handler to have a look at the clean waste that is created in the OR department. Collect the items that create the most waste in your OR department and discuss with the waste handler whether these are suitable for recycling. Want to know more about how Talitha implemented recycling in her OR? Watch the webinar “recycle” (in Dutch):

“Find a win-win situation. In our case, this was paper waste recycling. Win-win because paper is easily recycled into a new product, and because it makes us money instead of costing us money!” - Talitha

This post was created in collaboration with Green Care Academy.

Interested to know more on how to to lower CO2 emissions of your OR? On our last part of this series, we talk with Niek Sperna Weiland, anesthesiologist at the Amsterdam UMC where she gives practical recommendations on decreasing energy consumption.

Read More

Latest Insights