Pizza boxes, flowers, wadded-up paper, latex-glove boxes—those were just some of the items regularly tossed into the red bags reserved for regulated medical waste at Inova Health System, headquartered in Falls Church, Va.
“You name it and it ended up in our red bags,” said Seema Wadhwa, Inova's director of sustainability. “And it didn't need to be there.”
In 2008, as part of a broader effort to improve sustainable practices, Inova's senior leaders noticed the five-hospital system was generating far more regulated medical waste than was appropriate. Experts say regulated medical waste should account for 8% to 10% of a hospital's total waste.
But those percentages were as high as 38% at some of Inova's hospitals. That led Wadhwa and other system leaders to conclude that the system needed a far more aggressive waste-segregation and education strategy.
Though the definition of regulated medical waste varies slightly from state to state, it usually includes items that are contaminated with bodily fluids and have the potential to transmit infection, such as blood-soaked gowns, tubing and drains, gauze and suction canisters.