Hospitals is a complex and fascinating entity, housing entire ecosystem of people within, and therefore makes waste management a challenge. As an example, the Royal Adelaide Hospital has now become a model for green programming in South Australia as well as nationally after showing that sustainability is an achievable goal even in the most challenging work environments.
Some of the existing waste management program includes:
- Separating Food waste from other recyclable waste to ensure minimal contamination
- Tagged bins for different categories of recyclables
- Pro-actively educating staff on the importance of responsible waste management
While these are effective ways of managing waste, there can still be better ways to improve. For example, since waste are treated off-site, it would make sense to develop on-site treatment facilities to reduce economic costs to the organisation. Flammable wastes could be burnt on site as fuel, facilitating energy use. However, this also creates the problem of emission and processing of the waste after burning, so corresponding facility must be in place to counter this.
The high volume of organic waste can also be taken into account in energy production. All food waste can be fed into a biogas plant to create fuel for cooking, and the slurry can also act as fertiliser. Currently the RAH has a special vacuum system in place to filter food waste, and contracting its collection to a garden facility company to turn into compost. To facilitate 100% recycling, the RAH can process the remaining waste into a biogas plant, producing fuel for cooking within the hospital.
While education is a big part of the zero waste initiative within the RAH, and there is a system in place to ensure the right message gets across (Categorised and Tagged Bins), their current solution to educate staff by posting on notice boards might not be effective in conveying the message across to everyone. To facilitate this, we can propose incentives (monetary or otherwise) to encourage staff to correctly recycle. Monthly competitions and community activities can also be used to further create a sense of community and responsibility within the cohort.
Furthermore, RAH can set up local education programs, to convey the importance of proper waste management. The hospital’s stance as a contained ecosystem is the perfect model to showcase this, as well as showing how important individuals are to ensuring an effective waste management.
The RAH already has a good head-start in creating a zero waste environment, with the main obstacle being money. Implementing an effective system requires enough funding from sponsors and local government to contribute the initial capital, on top of normal running cost of the hospital, makes it not worth the short-term impact financially. While Zero Waste SA, a government entity, supports the efforts of RAH, the amount of space and funding available to the hospital remains restrictive on their ability to make drastic change.
It is prudent for other hospitals in the country to follow in RAH’s example, to take initiative in managing waste responsibly by educating the public and its staff and putting crucial infrastructure in place to facilitate the initiative.
Zero Waste SA Industry Program, ‘Case Study: Up Close’ <http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/upload/REAP/91392%20ZWSA%20UpClose%20RAH%20WEB.pdf> Accessed 7th June 2016