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Focusing on Sterile Processing Offers Big Environmental Impact and Cost Savings

By Emilio Tenuta, vice president, Corporate Sustainability, Ecolab

The recent Greening the OR Symposiumin Chicago was an important opportunity for hospitals and surgical leaders across the country to come together and share ideas about how we can provide healthy environments both inside and outside of the operating room. With ORs accounting for nearly one-third of a hospital’s total waste volume, a focused sustainability effort can have a big impact. The Sterile Processing Department (SPD) is a key area to focus on reducing water usage and waste.  For hospitals looking at improving SPD sustainability, following are some considerations:

Water. Conserving water is critically important across all industries. Within the SPD, significant water savings can be made by optimizing washer settings. Depending on the product used, there are generally opportunities to reduce washer cycle times, and in some cases eliminate a washer cycle. This helps reduce the amount of water and energy used in automated washers.

Waste. When looking at SPD waste we should consider both packaging waste and product waste. Liquid products, which often come in five and 15 gallon drums, generate a considerable amount of plastic waste. Concentrated products are becoming increasingly more popular for the sustainability improvements they offer with their smaller package sizes. Solid chemistries take those gains even further, producing only a fraction of the packaging waste of liquid products. Solids also eliminate product waste that is inevitable with liquid products. It may not look like much, but the left over liquid product at the bottom of the container can account for a significant amount of money annually.

The SPD can produce significant sustainability gains for the hospital. We recently worked with a 700-bed Midwest medical center that was looking to increase efficiency in their SPD. We analyzed their work flow and looked at the whole process to determine their pain points. By implementing solid chemistries and optimizing washer cycles to reduce cycle times, the SPD now saves 492,800 gallons of water each year and has reduced their packaging waste by over 800 pounds. In addition, they have cut 4,165 hours of cycle time annually.

When looking at SPD operations, there are several metrics that you can use to measure sustainability improvements. By picking those that are important to your facility and putting together a focused program, significant savings are possible.

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