Getting It Right From the Start

By Beth Eckl, Director, Practice Greenhealth’s Environmental Purchasing Program on July 16, 2015


Choosing waste management and recycling services? Evaluate them using our purchasing guidance.

THE HEALTH CARE industry generates a huge amount of waste. Managing waste and recycling services, volumes and costs while holding contractors accountable can have a significant impact on the environment and your ongoing expenses. So you want to ensure that you make the right decisions from the start when choosing vendors to partner with on waste diversion.

Begin by taking a look at Practice Greenhealth’s purchasing guidance. Our updated criteria for contracting with waste management and recycling services identifies important considerations that should be evaluated across
a number of program elements.

The guidance was informed by a work group of hospital members who shared their experiences in setting up, managing and implementing their waste and recycling contracts. A resource management consultant also provided expertise to help fine-tune this document. Here are the essential elements to consider:

Waste Tracking 

As the old adage goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” What type of waste and how much waste are key factors to include in reporting so your facility can measure results and meet regulatory requirements. Tracking should include creating a baseline of a facility’s existing waste generation, benchmarking it against other facilities and setting new goals.

Working with your contractor, your facility should be able to set target percentages for diversion from landfill with an eye toward best practices. For example, a 36 percent recycling diversion rate is often cited for best practice, with regulated medical waste at 7 percent or less and no more than 1 percent hazardous waste. Also, your facility should be able to work with your contracted partner to find out what is an achievable waste reduction goal, such as reducing waste by 10 percent the first year and more the following years.

Tracking data takes time to manage, so you might prefer to utilize a waste data tracking tool to reduce the internal workload, but ask if your contractor has the ability to generate customized monthly reports. Also, find out if the contractor will provide an initial assessment or waste characterization study to establish baseline percentages by weight in each waste category.

Auditing and Training

Depending on a facility’s preference, contractors can either be expected to provide training or they can simply support a facility’s internal training programs. While the guidance doesn’t outline which is the best method, our member work group had a range of ideas. Some preferred bringing all training in-house to ensure the quality of services while other members required contractors to support training of multiple facility sites in order to keep the health system compliant and save staff time.

Even if your site prefers to handle its own training, it’s helpful if the contractor can assist with tasks such as generating PowerPoints and other training tools, particularly during new program rollout. Contractors may offer initial assessments to determine level of services needed in rolling out a program and ongoing auditing to assist with continuous improvements in waste segregation, diversions and compliance. In other cases, facilities may choose to have an outside consultant provide these services for accountability and to minimize conflict of interest.

Waste Hauling and Treatment

How your contractor conducts business at your facility should be another area of focus. Make sure to ask about your contractor’s use of subcontractors or leased equipment and how they will maintain and ensure the cleanliness of any equipment on your campus. Drivers and waste handling personnel should be properly trained to handle multiple waste types for segregation, handling and transportation, and trucks should be equipped to provide multiple services, such as both dock-level and street-level services.

You should also ask your contractor about the final disposition of the waste that you generate and assure that the waste treatment method and facility aligns with your permit allowance and fees you incur.

Spills are another important issue. Preferably, your contracted vendor will provide 24/7 emergency services coverage, with two to three emergency response vendors available, to respond to emergency equipment failures and spills within a couple of hours. In addition, having a single point of contact for daily services with response time within 24 hours is ideal for maximum customer service availability.

Corporate Sustainability

Corporate responsibility considerations demonstrate a contractor’s commitment to sustainability within their organization. Ask about the corporate sustainability policy and get specifics on their use of alternative fuel vehicles, recycled engine coolants, lead-free wheel weights, retread tires, and filters or air quality emissions trading credits to reduce emission impacts.

Subcontracting to locally owned businesses supports the local economy and reduces emissions, as do incentives that your contractor might provide employees to use alternative means to get to work, such as public transportation, biking or ride-share.

Fee Structure

Once you have established that your contractor meets the above requirements, it’s time to discuss fees. There are various pricing structures to consider in waste management and recycling service contracts. Does the contractor work for a fee for service or shared savings? Is a facility charged by “the pull” (each container pick-up) or by “the pound”? Though convenient, the one-stop-shop option may contain longer haul distances and other environmental costs that could be avoided by contracting with local specialty vendors. Work with your corporate purchasing group to negotiate pricing based on regional markets and available services. The right answer depends on a facility’s situation and needs.

Waste Type Category

Finally, for each type of waste (solid, medical, hazardous, universal, recyclables and compostables), be sure to thoroughly assess the services offered. The updated guidance offers dozens of suggestions to help a facility clearly understand services by waste type.

For comprehensive guidance, go to the Practice Greenhealth website and click on the EPP Specifications and Resources Guide under Topics, Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, or visit (member login required).