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Garbage Piles Up in Healthcare Facilities During Emergencies

packaging wasteHave you considered how much garbage is produced by a hospital or healthcare food service establishment on a daily basis? Health systems in the U.S. have been estimated to produce nearly 12,000 tons of waste each day. Packaging waste can account for as much as 30 percent of a healthcare facility’s foodservice waste.

Waste management is an area that is receiving a lot of attention as healthcare facilities are seeking new strategies to become more sustainable. Many facilities are working toward improvements to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Healthcare facilities can save in the category of supplies and packaging waste; disposable items that are thrown away, such as drink cups, grab-and-go containers and plastic ware.

But what about emergency/disaster preparedness? It is estimated that 2 million metric tons of waste and debris were generated from Hurricane Charley in 2004, 100 million cubic yards from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and 23-60 million tons from the Haiti earthquake. Disasters can typically generate up to fifteen years’ worth of a community’s solid waste over a few days, with the potential to overwhelm day-to-day solid waste operations and lead to years of disruption.

Are you storing case upon case and thousands of Styrofoam plates, cups, bowls, plastic utensils, and paper napkins? Did you consider where this will all end up once it has been used for your unplanned disruption in meal service on disposable wares? Ponder these scenarios:

  • A Norovirus outbreak: Your infection control nurse puts disposable wares in place for the whole facility.
  • The dish machine breaks down: Your Nutrition Services Director dictates disposables for patient meal service and the cafeteria until the machine is repaired.
  • A sudden thunderstorm: With power outages and no generator for the power in the food service department of your small nursing facility, disposables are used until the power is restored.

Consider a more efficient package for your emergency/disaster preparedness disposable wares: with everything needed to serve 150 people, the Meals for All dining kit is all packed in one sturdy case.×174.jpg

One simple step toward reducing packaging waste is for healthcare operations to contact their suppliers to discuss how they can get products delivered in the most efficient way. For example, rather than receiving pallets with 20 boxes of the same product wrapped in shrink wrap, healthcare facilities can request the products be packaged in a less wasteful way.


Beginning a waste management program can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Eliminate disposables of cutlery and wares in the cafeteria in favor of washable wares.
  • Encourage patrons to supply their own refillable water bottles and coffee cups.
  • Set up a recycling bin for bottles, cans, paper and cardboard items in the staff break rooms and cafeterias.
  • Use biodegradable service ware and other products when possible.
  • Review merchandising wastes such as par levels, display plates, last pans, and decorations.
  • Participate in a food donation program.
  • Engage a waste management consultant for insight, advice or a waste reduction plan.
  • Involve the entire team and set goals.

For more information, contact:


Hospitals for Healthy Environment:

Healthcare without Harm:

EPA’s Waste Wise:

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