In our work with healthcare organizations, I came across the term RMW a few years ago. RMW refers to ‘regulated medical waste’. Waste – I thought to myself. We all generate waste. As far as I know, my waste isn’t regulated.
I thought back to the odd hospital visit – I remembered how each tool was packed in layers and layers of packaging material, how each tool was used once, then discarded. OK – so I can see how this would have a huge impact on sustainability, but why is it regulated? After all, there are many industries that generate a large volume of waste but it’s not regulated – think of how many sheets of paper the legal profession generates.
Then it occurred to me – many of those tools disposed by hospitals are covered in blood or other bodily fluids. Of course medical waste has to be regulated. There’s a danger of infection.
Over time, I’ve learned a lot more about RMW. For one, it has multiple names. In some states, it’s RMW. In others, it may be referred to as Infectious Waste or Biomedical Waste. Most states have regulations governing different types of medical waste. Here’s a good primer on the topic.
I also learned that hospital waste (regulated or not) has a huge sustainability impact. For leaders in sustainable healthcare, such as Virginia Mason and Kaiser Permanente, waste reduction is a primary focus of their efforts. According to this study published by The Commonwealth Fund, hospitals could save more than $700 million over five years just by adopting waste management interventions!
So – it turns out that healthcare organizations must put systems in place to track much of their waste, just to meet regulations. It’s a small leap to look at their total waste generation, to realize how much stands to be saved by paying attention to it and to track it more broadly, as simply medical waste.