Recycling in the OR – A Practical Solution

Pawarissara Osathanugrah, Varsha Muralidhar, Alexus Skobodzinski

Hospitals produce around 2 million tons of waste yearly, 20% of which can be attributed to operating theater waste1. The most visually striking waste in an OR is the surgical material waste: drapes, gauze, sponges, plastic wrap, packaging paper, disposable linen, and so on. Thus we propose the simple solution to recycle the uncontaminated waste. This will not only increase OR recycling, but more importantly, decrease the amount of hazardous waste, which costs 28 times more to dispose of than general waste1.

Hospitals have recycling systems with different colored containers to separate general waste from hazardous waste and its subtypes. However, this method is error prone due to the time sensitive, high focus nature of surgery. A bloody sponge mistakenly placed in the recyclable plastics container negates the efforts of separating the wastes. The whole container of recyclables must now be disposed of as anatomical waste.

Therefore, our solution is a procedural change. We hope to eliminate the possibility of the human error discussed above and thereby decrease the amount of recyclables disposed as hazardous waste. We propose having one receptacle in the OR at a time. All of the sterile materials (packaging, disposable linen, etc.) will be disposed of first, because these items may be recyclable. Prior to the first procedure, before the possibility of contamination, a designated individual, such as an unscrubbed medical student or nurse, will wheel the receptacle with recyclable wastes out of the OR in exchange for a new receptacle to collect hazardous wastes that will be used for the rest of the operation. This effectively separates the hazardous anatomical waste from general waste, which can then be safely sorted for recycling.

Implementing this change is simple yet effective. The change is also cost-saving because exchanging receptacles immediately prior to surgery requires no additional resources, negligible training time and effort. The hospital will decrease costs by twenty seven cents for each pound of recyclable waste not disposed of as hazardous waste. Furthermore, this general waste can now be sorted and recycled, reducing the hospital’s total overall waste.

We propose measuring intervention effectiveness by implementing it in one OR at Boston Medical Center, while also tracking the wastes of another OR in BMC, where the intervention is not implemented, for a control. We will measure the weight of the receptacles containing biohazard material in both the intervention and control ORs post-operation for a period of two weeks. Then we will analyze the data to compute (1) cost savings and (2) recycling’s effect on OR waste production. We expect a significantly decreased hazardous waste weight leading to increased cost savings per pound and increased recycling of OR waste.


  1. Booth, Sara. “Reducing Waste in the Operating Room.” Sustainable City Network. N.p., 1 July 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.