UCLA Health is committed to managing all of its waste streams, promoting policies that reduce overall waste production, and recycling those products that can be reincorporated into the supply chain.
Healthcare is the second most wasteful industry behind fast-food, with U.S. hospitals accounting for an average of 5 million tons of waste per year. UCLA Health produced more than 11 million pounds of waste in Fiscal Year 2022 across the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center. UCLA Health achieved a 2.7% reduction in overall waste between FY21 and FY22 and an 8.2% reduction since fiscal year 2018.
UCLA Health has a goal to divert 50% of our materials from landfill and reduce total waste per adjusted patient day to 25 lbs. by 2025. The figure below shows our fiscal year 2022 waste diversion rates at 26.1%.
Diverting waste from the landfill and managing waste in a healthcare environment poses unique challenges due to infection prevention precautions and potential contamination. UCLA Health manages many waste streams that can be categorized into Medical Waste, Landfill, Recycling & Diversion, and Compost.
UCLA Health Waste Streams
Medical waste within our health system is categorized according to the hazard such that it can be appropriately treated after it leaves the hospital. It is important that all of our staff understand how to segregate medical waste to minimize contamination risk through proper disposal. These waste streams are also our most expensive and all end up in the landfill, so we conduct annual education of all staff to ensure only the appropriate items are being disposed of in the various types of bins.
For more information, view our Employee Health & Safety team’s guidance.
The Sanipak is an on-site autoclave that enables our Health System to treat biohazardous waste at UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. The Sanipak ensures biohazardous waste is properly managed and does not harm our employees or secret hazardous toxins into our waste streams.
At UCLA Health we contract with our Municipal Solid Waste hauler, Athens, for landfill, recycling, and compost waste. The landfill is our last resort for products that we cannot reuse or recycle.
Each of these waste streams is managed through marked bins and colored liners to ensure the best rate of segregation and diversion from landfill.
By policy and practice, UCLA Health is committed to first reducing unnecessary purchasing of disposable items, then evaluating reusability of items, and then finding the best ways to recycle items.
At UCLA Health, we search for every opportunity to reduce landfill waste and divert or recycle items used in our health facilities. Recycling refers to the process whereby items are sent to a recycling sorting facility in order to be re-processed and re-incorporated into the supply chain.
Common recycled items include plastic water bottles, newspapers, and cardboard. At UCLA Health, we also provide hazardous recycling services. These are useful, secondary items that cannot be placed in the landfill due to their toxic composition, and they can be reincorporated into the supply chain. Hazardous recyclable items we collect at UCLA Health are lamps, batteries, IT equipment, and scrap metal.
Many items within our diverted streams are traditionally single-use items destined for landfill. Through collaboration and coordination, our clinical and non-clinical staff have successfully transitioned to reusable and reclaimable products. These include our isolation and OR gowns, pharmaceutical containers, and reprocessed single-use medical devices. We are continually looking to divert new waste streams from the landfill and transition to more sustainable sources.
Recycling is our last line of defense in avoiding waste to the landfill. At UCLA Health, we partner with our waste hauler, Athens, to collect "Single Stream Recycling." Recycling bins are found around the hospitals, clinics, and dining areas. Recycling bins are accompanied by our signage that indicates the following items should be recycled: Cardboard and Paper; Rigid and Soft Plastics; and Aluminum, steel and glass.
UCLA will be a plastic-free campus by 2023, and in 2021 began the first implementation phase ofthe UC single-use plastics policy. UCLA Health is committed to transitioning away from single use plastic, including bags, foodservice items, and beverage bottles in all retail and dining locations, as well as catered events. We are partnering with our clinical champions to identify ways to reduce single-use plastics in patient care settings and identify environmentally friendlier alternatives.
Hazardous Recycling at UCLA Health includesitems such as electronics, batteries, lightbulbs, and scrap metals that cannot be hauled by our municipal recycling vendor. Diverting these items from the landfill keeps harmful toxins such as battery acids and plasma from polluting our water sources and arable land. Electronics and metals can be recycled into new technologies, thus should always be recycled when possible.
UCLA Health strives to reduce single-use items and replace them with reusable, multi-use items. Reusable items are considered diverted waste because they promote a circular economy as opposed to a linear system where items are used then sent to landfill or recycling plants. Reusable items are more environmentally friendly than single-use items as they decrease overall waste as well as the manufacturing waste of raw materials, water, and transportation. Reusable items also strengthen the supply chain by creating an internal supply chain ecosystems within the hospital network.
Current initiatives within our health system include:
Reusable Isolation Gowns
At the end of 2015, UCLA Health implemented our reusable isolation gowns program at our Santa Monica and Ronald Reagan campuses. This program is the result of successful collaboration between sustainability, infection prevention, nursing, materials management, environmental services, and our vendor partners. Our team designed a custom gown that is 99% polyester and 1% carbon fiber to reduce static electricity. Our gowns have custom sleeves with shorter cuffs that ensure proper glove protection, are reversible to minimize labor time at our laundering facilities, and snaps rather than ties that are easier to use for our staff.
Every time a gown is washed and reused, it keeps a disposable gown out of the landfill. Life-cycle assessment studies show that when reusable gowns are compared to their disposable counterparts, they create a 28% reduction in natural resource energy used, a 30% reduction in global warming potential, a 41% reduction in water consumption, and a 93-99% reduction in solid waste.
Since the inception of our program, we have issued more than 10 million washable isolation gowns, and with each disposable gown weighing about half a pound, we have diverted over 2,500 tons of material from the landfill and saved $3.5 million over the life of the program.For more information, read the case study Practice Greenhealth completed on the program, or the study Frontiers in Public Health conducted: COVID-19 Solutions Are Climate Solutions: Lessons From Reusable Gowns.
Reusable Coffee Mugs
Americans consume 100 billion cups of coffee yearly and over 16 billion of those coffees are bought in disposable paper cups. This adds a tremendous amount of waste to landfills. By switching to reusable coffee mugs, you can reduce the environmental impact of your daily cup of coffee. UCLA Health Dining Services incentivizes reusable coffee mugs by offering $1 refills to those who bring their own mugs. We provide reusable mugs to all of our new hires and they are available for purchase in all of our dining commons.
Most of the UCLA Health System’s product deliveries are packaged in reusable plastic tote bins. Our distribution partner and materials management team remove products from cardboard boxes and place them in the totes which are delivered to our hospitals on a just-in-time system. The totes are then returned to the distributor to repeat the process. This allows the cardboard to be recycled by the distributor rather than flow through the UCLA medical center waste system. The cardboard that does enter our system is baled at our distribution center or recycled on-site at our loading docks.
Reusable Sharps Containers
UCLA Health offers a program to reuse sharps containers (medical waste disposal containers for needles). While the hazardous waste is sterilized and incinerated, the container goes through a process of sterilization and reassembly and is then returned to the health system for reuse. The process of reusing biohazard containers eliminates ~40 tons of waste from ending up in landfills annually.
Single-use Medical Device Reprocessing
Medical device reprocessing is the process by which medical devices are given a new life as they are disinfected, cleaned, and sterilized by FDA-approved 3rd party vendors and returned back into the supply chain. These are items originally designated as single-patient-use and traditionally sent to the landfill after each. Instead, UCLA Health partners with FDA approved and regulated vendors who collect the devices, clean them, rigorously test, package and reincorporate the devices into the supply chain process. This burgeoning process reduces water, raw materials, energy in manufacturing, and greenhouse gas from transportation, as well as avoiding sending additional precious materials to landfill. UCLA Health diverted 20,000 lbs. of devices from landfill in FY22 and purchased 2,800 reprocessed devices.
Food Waste & Recycling Collection
UCLA Health offers collection receptacles for recycling and composting inside and outside of our dining facilities. Our cutlery, bowls, plates, napkins, cups, lids, and straws are all compostable. It is important for all of our staff and visitors to follow the guidance provided on our signage to ensure minimal contamination in both of these streams that are sorted by our waste hauler.
Paper Towel Composting
In 2020, we expanded our composting program to include paper towels in our public-facing restrooms. We generate a significant amount of paper towel waste daily, and ensuring it does not end up in a landfill is important to achieving our waste diversion goals. The next phase of the program is to capture the paper towel waste from our patient floors and food waste from our staff break rooms and conference rooms.
Centralized waste at UCLA Health is a new process by which occupants in medical offices will be provided a centralized waste bin with three streams (compost, recycle, landfill). In the offices, occupants will bring and sort their waste to the centralized bins. This process is beneficial for occupants, custodians, and the planet. According to Infection Prevention teams, this process will reduce the number of touchpoints for occupants and custodians, reducing epidemiological-occurred infections. Custodians will be able to focus on higher priority cleaning areas and reduce risk of repetitive motion related injuries. The environmental benefits include reducing daily plastic liner consumption and higher rates of diverted waste.
For more information, see the UCLA Centralized Waste FAQs here.
We implemented our “A Sustainable U” campaign to standardize our signage across the health system. We regularly conduct unit rounds and in-service education with staff to keep them updated on the latest changes in our sustainability program. If you would like to schedule one for your unit during your regular huddles, please contact [email protected].
How Can You Help?
UCLA Medical Centers should have centralized waste bins for recycling, composting, and trash. In addition, there are six medical waste management systems with corresponding colors. Please make sure to have the infrastructure for these waste streams so that waste can be properly sorted to achieve the zero waste goals outlined in the UC Sustainable Practices Policy.
- Collect waste in deskside bins and sort your waste in a centralized location
Another important UCLA goal is to reduce waste. Here are ways to reduce waste in your location.
- Encourage reusable products over single-use (ex: water bottles, cups, utensils, white boards)
- Collect reusable items for donation to other departments, campus entities, or non-profits
For all other inquiries please email EVS Sustainability at [email protected]