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Release: Immediate

UIHC purchases sophisticated new waste management system

IOWA CITY, Iowa --The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) has become the first hospital in the United States to purchase Waste Tracker, a state-of-the-art system that monitors biomedical waste and recyclables. This system will be used at the UIHC's various facilities to help reduce the volume of waste generated and to increase recyclables. The system should be fully operational by January 1999 and is expected to help UIHC reduce waste disposal costs.

A major challenge for most hospitals is the fact that more than one-third of the medical waste stream is not actually medical waste; it is clean paper, packaging, recyclable plastics, and many other items that are not dangerous. These recyclables end up in the medical waste stream because most hospitals don't realize the cost of the problem, nor do they have the means to effectively institute an ongoing segregation program.

In the past five years, UIHC has already succeeded in reducing its volume of regulated medical waste by 50 percent. "With the Waste Tracker, we have a sophisticated new tool that will allow us to go even further with our waste reduction efforts. We will be broadening our focus to include recycling as well as regulated waste. This system will help us identify specific types of recycling streams so that we can set benchmark levels for waste reduction in various areas," said Martin E. Shafer, operations manager, facility operations - housekeeping, at UIHC.

"The Waste Tracker gives UIHC's management precise and timely data so that we can make ongoing improvements to the waste handling process," says Shafer. "We plan to seek out those areas where our day-to-day procedures may not match our policies. With the Waste Tracker we will record what is happening, inform the key people promptly, and track the changes and improvements."

The Waste Tracker system consists of hand-held computers with touch screens and digital cameras. These units are used by housekeeping personnel to record the types of waste each department produces and the specific steps required to improve each waste stream. If there is an instance of non-compliance, a digital photo is taken for internal reporting. The system has expert advice built into it, which the user references as he or she tours the facility. While each department has individual waste issues, the expertise required in a facility the size and scope of UIHC is extensive.

The collected information is downloaded into a computer and automatically incorporated into e-mail memos to the responsible parties for each department. Daily and weekly reports also show how much biohazardous waste was produced and any areas where corrective action is needed.

The system has already achieved impressive cost savings at seven major Canadian hospitals over the last five years. Biohazardous waste volume was reduced by an average of 35 percent and disposal costs cut by as much as 60 percent. "In each of the hospitals where the Waste Tracker has been installed, we have guaranteed that the system would pay for itself in a short period of time," said Stephen Walsh, president of Montreal-based Walsh Integrated Environmental Systems and inventor of the Waste Tracker. "In the case of the UIHC installation, we expect the Waste Tracker to pay for itself well within the first two years, even considering the improvements they have previously made." Shafer estimates that using the Waste Tracker will save the UIHC about $50,000 the first year (1999-2000).

The Waste Tracker has also received positive endorsements from waste management experts in Canada and the U.S. "This system is an efficient and easy-to-use tool that will help UIHC accurately track how well it is managing its biomedical waste disposal costs. From the clinical side, the system reinforces best practices via regularly generated memos and reports. Such a systematic approach to waste management will help ensure that UIHC fully complies with the increasingly stringent government regulations being imposed on hospitals for their handling of waste," said Michael Garvin, safety engineer at UIHC, who is an expert on medical waste issues.