DISINFACTS | Special edition 2023

6 INTERVIEW "Professional waste management pays off" As a maximum care provider, Bonn University Hospital (UKB) is increasingly relying on sustainable processes for waste disposal. Michael Schmitz, Head of Department in Facility Management, Waste Management Officer, and Head of the Sustainability Unit, explains why this feels good and what’s more, it pays off. Example Bonn: Using hospital waste as an opportunity We have therefore completely restructured our waste management processes. In collaboration with a company from Hamburg, we developed a digital management system as an industry solution for medical facilities in 2019. We now have the capacity to electronically document all waste streams. I can now see exactly what waste is generated where and in what quantity, and how and where it is disposed of. I can also assess the utilisation of the respective areas, such as the optimisation of our logistics. This is immensely valuable if you want to optimise routes and disposal flows and avoid traffic congestion. In short, we now have all the important data and a complete overview! Did you come across any surprising discoveries? Not particularly. The data largely revealed what I feared: really poor waste separation. However, this is a very big problem throughout the healthcare system. The healthcare sector is Germany’s fifth-largest waste producer, with 1.2 million tonnes. This highlights the enormous potential for improvement in terms of closing the material cycles and not burn the recyclables. In the meantime, we have introduced numerous separation containers at the various collection points and now prioritize early-stage waste separation. How many fractions do you distinguish? Currently, we categorise our waste into approximately 20 distinct fractions. It spans from non-infectious hospital waste to medical waste – such as pathological waste or cytostatics – and extends to items we aim to recycle. This includes cardboard, paper, and lightweight packaging, akin to what is in the yellow bag at households. We also collect wood separately. Construction waste is also a consistent by product in a hospital environment, as is bulky waste and electronic waste. We also have a dedicated separation process for glass waste. For instance, infusion bottles are no longer incinerated at our hospital. Even though there is a higher potential for further separation in the clinics, we are subject to strict waste legislation, which limits our sorting efforts. For example, materials that have come into contact with patients must not end up in a sorting plant, but must be disposed of thermally. In other words, they must be incinerated. Mr Schmitz, you have been at Bonn University Hospital since 2017. How important is sustainability in your institution today? And how has it changed since you joined? Sustainability has become a very important topic. For example, we have founded a sustainability working group which came into being at the initiative of the employees. All ideas for restructuring also came from the staff and were not suggested or demanded by the board. The working group is called "UKB Green". It currently consists of 42 colleagues from different disciplines. I find that the interactions within the group are a real added value because they offer me fresh insights from the different disciplines. But basically, our goal has always been about making the healthcare system more sustainable. What are the specific topics you discuss? And how effective have the measures that you and your colleagues at the UKB have implemented in recent years been? Let me briefly explain the dimensions involved: healthcare as a whole exerts a very large influence on our environment. And waste management is a very important area in this context. In a hospital like ours, there are many big levers for sustainability that can be pulled. We have more than 1,300 planned beds and about 350,000 outpatients and 50,000 inpatients every year. There are also about 40,000 emergency patients. In total, about 8,400 people are employed here at the hospital. However, we are not a hospital that was planned as a whole and built on a greenfield site. Our campus, with its 38 clinics and institutes, looks more like a district that has organically developed over decades. The disposal routes are correspondingly complex. I come from the waste management industry. As someone involved in waste disposal, I have always been amazed at how little understanding of waste management there is within hospitals. This is still a problem in many clinics. After all, patient care comes first. Waste disposal is usually secondary. There is often a lack of experts well-versed in waste regulations. Consequently, waste separation suffers and data on waste is inadequate. Naturally, effective measures for improved waste separation and recycling can only be implemented when there is comprehensive knowledge about all waste streams. „Effective measures for improved waste separation and recycling can only be implemented when there is comprehensive knowledge about all waste streams“