doeHealth Care Waste & Toxics Reduction Tips

for small and medium size health care facilities


Health care facilities of any size can benefit from waste reduction and resource efficiency efforts in their facility maintenance activities.   


facilitiesReasons for Change

Maintenance services may generate solvents, degreasers, paints, aerosols, boiler water treatment chemicals, CFC’s, mercury-containing devices and lighting, PCB-containing ballasts, batteries, flammable products, and other hazardous substances and dangerous wastes.   Personal protective equipment is essential, and many of these wastes require special handling and compliance with dangerous waste regulations.

It is important for employees to learn how to work safely with the products they use, and how to use safer alternatives when available.  Because all dangerous waste needs to be collected, stored, and recycled, treated, or disposed appropriately, it pays to reduce the generation of these wastes and reduce the risks they pose to employees and patients.

By assessing and implementing one or more of the practices described here and on the accompanying downloadable table, health care facilities can enjoy:

        • Reduced regulatory obligations and oversight;

        • Increased safety and reduced risks for patients, staff, visitors and the community;

        • Less waste in raw materials, by-products, work space, work flow, and staffing; and

        • Improved cost control at your health care facility. 



Opportunities for Action

Specific tips on ways facilities maintenance can reduce and prevent toxic wastes and resource inefficiencies are listed in this fact sheet’s downloadable/printable table. A sampling of these tips is listed below.

Basic Best Management Practices

  • Segregate solvent wastes, distill, reuse or dispose as dangerous waste.  Do not mix solvent wastes with other wastes such as waste oil.

  • Recycle spent fluorescent lights, high intensity discharge lights, neon lights and batteries as Universal Waste.

  • Recycle mercury-containing products or dispose of as dangerous waste.

  • Use non-chlorinated products.

  • Recycle spent antifreeze and used oil


Next Steps to Improve Administrative Practices   

  • Re-use solvents as long as possible before disposal as dangerous waste (if they designate as such).

  • Either replace water vacuum pumps with non-water systems, or use mechanical pumps without water seals (water seals cause solvents to be carried out with the waste water).

  • Save money and reduce municipal solid waste by recycling metals, paper, cardboard, plastic and glass.

  • Keep oil, grease, sludge out of drains or sewer.

  • Recycle paper, glass, aluminum cans, cardboard, plastics, computers and other equipment, furniture, printer, and copier cartridges, kitchen grease, wood waste, and scrap metals.

  • Avoid single-use rags; launder in-house or consider a laundry service.




Additional Resources

See this resource guide’s home page for a list of general resources on waste reduction and resource efficiency for hospitals and other health care facilities. 

The Office of the Federal Environmental Executive has a Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator to quantify the projected environmental benefits of using green cleaning products.

Manage energy and water use at your facility.

Green Seal certified paints and coatings.

To see a list of Green Seal certified industrial and institutional cleaners.

To see a list of Green Seal certified floor strippers and finishes.

Eco-Logo has a list of certified green cleaning products.

For more information on low-VOC adhesives, view these product lists.

See how Olmstead Medical Center reduced the number and toxicity of cleaning chemicals and improved efficiency.

See Northumberland Health Care Center’s green hospital initiatives.

For appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety measures, view OSHA’s Hospital eTool.



This information is brought to you by the Washington Department of Ecology/Toxics Reduction Unit with assistance from the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) . June 2010 (draft 06-23-2010)