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6 Simple Steps To Start A Hospital Recycling Program

hospital recycling program, medical waste

It’s estimated that the average hospital generates more than 5 million tons of waste each year making them responsible for at least 1% of all non-residential landfill waste. Hospitals like any other organization should be embracing recycling as standard practice.

The benefits of an effective hospital recycling program are wide ranging but from a financial point of view, it means cost savings and a potential to earn back money.

Successful recycling can reduce operational costs, increase worker safety, enhance community relations, and even begin generating revenue for the hospital.

Here are 6 simple steps to get your hospital recycling program started.

1. Start With Your Waste Hauler

Hospitals are in a unique situation because medical waste is considered one of the most complex waste streams of any industry and they produce a phenomenal volume.

hospital recycling program, medical waste

Hospital waste categories Include:

Trash (solid waste)

Recyclables (paper, cardboard)

Compostable (organics)

Biohazards (sharp objects, red bag)

Hazardous (chemicals)

Radioactive waste

The best place to start is to talk to your waste hauler. Is your waste hauler able to accommodate all the different medical waste streams your hospital is producing?  If not, to maximize savings and your waste hauler fees, consider working with a company that is equipped to handle the standard waste streams as well as those hazardous ones.

*For more help check out this list of Top Questions To Ask Your Waste Hauler.

But here’s the good news: according to the World Health Organization, about 80% of hospital waste is actually general waste, not medical waste! Office paper is usually the largest part of the waste stream at hospitals including cardboard, white paper, etc.  All of which are high value recyclable materials.

2. Conduct A Waste Audit

hospital recycling

Parallel to working with your waste hauler, do a waste audit to get a detailed understanding of where your facility is in terms of waste management and identify the different waste streams the hospital is producing.

*The waste audit involves collecting, measuring, and monitoring all waste for three consecutive days as well as looking at other practices such as waste hauling schedules and bin placement. The information gathered will help determine your current waste diversion rate and identify areas for improvement. 

Get started with our waste audit tool kit.

Once you do your waste audit, go through each waste stream and identify any areas you can start reducing or even re-using.

For example:

  • Use hand dryers in bathrooms to eliminate paper towel
  • Use linen diapers instead of disposable
  • Source medical instruments that come in re-usable packaging

*Hospital volunteers are a great resource when it comes to re-using, washing and re-distributing recycled items throughout the facility.

Just by making some of these small changes you should already see a huge savings from your previous plan as well as an increase in your waste diversion.

3. Opt for Sustainable Suppliers & Packaging

hospital recycling program

The next key step you can take to reducing your waste is to assess what is coming into the hospital.  By starting at the supply chain, you can begin taking more control over what is coming into the hospital and thus more control of what is being diverted from landfill. When you get your hospital suppliers on board with your recycling efforts, they can adopt proactive practices and reduce or avoid waste before it is even generated.

A word from Bruce:

“In Hospitals, due to all the different lab work, surgery’s, and medical exams being done, all these different instruments require three or four different layers of packaging from cardboard boxes, to protective wrap to plastic. There is tremendous opportunity to understand the material flow but more importantly open a conversation with suppliers about EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility).  Hospitals can work with their suppliers to take back the end-of-life product and/or the packaging.”

4. Start Composting

hospital recycling program

Don’t forget that hospitals are a food service industry within themselves. From cafeterias, to patient meals, to even chain restaurants, food service is responsible for a large percent of the products, packaging, and organic waste ending up in hospital waste streams. So, start simply and start composting. Compost is a key component of any serious waste reduction program and can have a big impact on your hospital’s waste diversion.

  • Work with your kitchen and cafeteria staff to identify any products or items that are currently being purchased and see if there is a compostable alternative.
  • Create weekly patient menus that re-use food scraps or use leftover ingredients
  • Research food donation programs in your area for any leftover or excess food at the end of each day

For best practices on how to set up organics collection check out : Operation Organics and Organics Collection- How Saving the Planet Can Save You Money

5. Keep Your Recycling Program Consistent

Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto made their recycling program a priority and reached out to CleanRiver to help increase their diversion rate and make their program more effective and user friendly. After conducting an in-depth waste audit, they identified that a lack of consistency in their program was one of their major issues.

hospital recycling program, medical waste

Rogue bins were added each time a new waste stream was collected. There was no consistency in style or color. It was unclear what each stream was collecting so recyclables were getting tossed in the trash.  Many of the bins were missing graphics and signage to instruct staff, visitors, and patients on how to sort the trash. When no-one knows where to put their recyclables, they either end up littering or placing them in the wrong waste stream and then everything was ending up in landfill.


By placing the appropriate bin design for different spaces around the hospital, each recycling station is set up to properly collect the items that are most often used and tossed in that area of the hospital.

Restrictive openings were effective in helping hospital staff, patients, and guests make the right decision when choosing which stream to deposit their waste into.

High impact recycling graphics clearly communicate to users what items belong in what stream. Door posters communicate the program goals and motivate hospital staff to contribute to the success of the program.

6. Educate & Communicate With Hospital Staff About The New Recycling Program

hospital recycling program, medical waste

The BevvyBin8 is ideal for paper collection in hospital office areas.

Communicate the placement of all the bins and identify the different streams being collected. Educate all hospital staff on how to properly separate their waste and the goals of the hospital recycling program. Use monthly meetings, emails, flyers, posters & table tent cards.

One hospital green team that partnered with CleanRiver monthly went door to door of every office and patient room to quiz staff and guests on different common hospital items to let them know which recycling stream each belonged in.  So be creative because engagement is the most important component to the success of any hospital recycling program.

For more information on starting a hospital recycling program, check out our blogs 3 Tips For Ordering The Most Effective Recycling Labels For Your Program and 5 Pro Tips For Buying Recycling Bins.


CleanRiver Recycling provides a variety of innovative, flexible and customizable recycling solutions. To determine the right solution to meet your needs, use the CleanRiver product selector.

If you have additional questions that weren’t answered in this blog post please call us at 1-888-646-4246 or email solutions@cleanriver.com.