Waste audit helps Homewood become even greener

Organizations work hard to establish green sustainability programs. Many programs include waste minimization initiatives, source separating, recycling, water reduction programs, energy efficiencies or a combination of these.

Developing a green team with clear guidelines and a solid, organized foundation will result in success. However, maintaining green team momentum when objectives are met can be challenging. Green teams need to look beyond initiatives being done within their own organization and venture out to see how others manage sustainability.

Active participation within organizations such as the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO), Canadian Coalition of Green Health Care (CCGHC) and the Canadian Sanitation Supply Association (CSSA), to name a few, will provide unlimited resources and the connections needed to move forward for improved sustainability initiatives.

In early 2011, Homewood Health Centre participated in the CSSA Canadian Green Sustainability Program (CGSP). Homewood was proud to receive platinum status, the highest recognition within the CSSA program; however, the Homewood Green Team pushed to maintain our sustainability momentum and continued to strive for further improvements.

In June last year, the team retained the services of Waste Reduction Group Inc. to conduct a solid non-hazardous waste audit for the entire facility. The objective of the audit was to examine the quantity and nature of waste coming from various waste generating areas within Homewood. The audit was conducted to validate our volume statistics related to Homewood’s solid waste reduction program and, more important, to identify potential areas of improvement.

The waste audit conducted by Waste Reduction Group Inc. also satisfied Ontario Regulation 102/94, which requires owners and/or operators of various establishments to conduct a waste audit, and develop and implement a waste reduction work plan if certain criteria are satisfied. Timing of the audit could not be more perfect. The Ontario Hospital Association (OHA) had recently announced its Green Hospital Champion fund, which provided qualifying facilities with subsidies up to 80 per cent for third party waste audits.

A waste audit addresses the amount, nature and composition of the waste, the manner in which the waste is produced, including management decisions and policies that relate to the production of waste, and the way in which the waste is managed. The waste reduction work plan outlines a strategy to reduce, reuse and recycle waste at the establishment. The report sets out who will implement each part of the plan, when each part will be implemented and outlines the expected results.

The follow-up regulation, which focuses on implementing a source separation program, is known as Regulation 103/94.  Conducting a waste audit identifies opportunities to support any potential source separation plan and provided a perfect opportunity to maintain Homewood’s green team momentum.

The OHA subsidy application was submitted, tenders for waste audits were sent out to qualified waste audit companies, an award was issued to the preferred vendor, Waste Reduction Group Inc., and our partnership was born.

Collectively, we created a strategy to carry out the waste audit for Homewood. Waste Reduction Group Inc. weighed and measured representative samples of bags collected from the entire facility over a 24-hour period. This gave us a snapshot of our waste composition, quantities of waste generated throughout and more specific data to support any changes needed.

The program included our housekeeping team, who labeled every single waste bag as they collected the waste throughout the facility by building, by floor, by wing and by waste holding area. This step was crucial as it provided all the details necessary to identify where the waste was generated and by whom within our facility.

Homewood’s gymnasium served as a source separation and checkpoint for the actual waste audit. Housekeeping transported the waste to this location where representatives from Waste Reduction Group completed the details of the audit.

They weighed and recorded each bag, opened the bag, removed the contents, sorted the contents by waste type/recyclables and re-weighed the contents again. Information recorded included the location where the contents of the waste bag were generated.

Once the contents were inspected, weighed and recorded, the housekeeping staff removed the waste/recyclables to the appropriate location for disposal.

This process took two days to complete and gave us all the information we needed to prepare for our waste reduction plan.

Homewood was rated at 68 per cent for waste diversion. Compared with 26 other health care facilities audited by Waste Reduction Group Inc., Homewood received the highest diversion rating. The rating also confirmed that our internal volume reports from previous years, which indicated a 64 per cent waste reduction, were accurate.

While the 68 per cent waste reduction is a favourable outcome, the audit revealed opportunities for Homewood to improve. The key opportunities identified include a recommendation to make sure there are no solitary garbage bins in the buildings and, if there are any, to couple them with a recycling bin or replace the solitary garbage bins with a depot. Another recommendation is to make the existing depots more consistent and ensure that they are bolted together – garbage and cans and bottles bins were often found separated from the paper bins. An additional suggestion is to ensure all signage is updated to be a consistent and accurate reflection of the current recycling program and to ensure that it is clear (i.e. icons combined with text).

Waste Reduction Group Inc. verifies with the end sources what can and can’t be recycled by local service providers.  Further suggestions include providing recycling in patient rooms, or in a central area close to patient rooms as well as replacing waste receptacles in office/administration areas with smaller “side saddle” waste baskets to encourage staff to further reduce their waste.

The audit showed that Homewood Health Centre’s current mixed paper diversion rate is approximately 71 cent. For an institution such as Homewood, a rate in excess of 80 per cent can be achieved with improved recycling bins and signage. The audit also revealed a significant number of disposable coffee cups in the waste. Encouraging the use of china, where possible, and providing a coffee cup recycling program to accommodate wet strength paper are possible solutions to improve diversion rates. Homewood has a used furniture refurbishing centre and also donates used furniture to local charities. When a large clean-out of a health care facility is done and refurbishing items or donating them to charity are not viable options, it is recommended that the contents be assessed, recyclables be separated (e.g. wood and scrap metals), and as little as possible be thrown out.

Waste Reduction Group generated a Homewood waste reduction work plan which lays out a strategy for reducing waste and sets goals and targets for the future of our green team.

The Homewood Green Team recently implemented a waste-free office work plan that will provide central drop-off points for staff to place waste, recycled materials such as organics/cans, and other useful commodities. The plan is to make source-separating achievable and easier for staff.

We also reduced the number of plastic waste bags going to land fill by simply reducing the number of waste containers in patient rooms. This also had a positive impact on the housekeeping budget, with savings achieved on bag replacement costs.

The waste audit was a worthwhile investment for Homewood. We certainly appreciate the support from the OHA Green Hospital Champion Fund, the detailed audit work performed by Waste Reduction Group Inc. and their recommendations for our 2012 Waste Reduction Plan.

Homewood’s Green Team is maintaining momentum by looking beyond our current practice.