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Recycling Communications and Engagement Case Study

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Recycling in clinical settings has its own set of unique and complex challenges that can make the process confusing for staff. Simple rules for municipal recycling do not always apply in a clinical setting due to real and perceived risk of hazardous and biomedical materials ending up in the recycling bin.

The Energy and Environmental Sustainability (EES) team works to educate staff and make recycling in health care easier. The St. Paul’s Hospital recycling communications and engagement project tested new recycling engagement tools meant to improve recycling in clinical areas.

EES engaged Be the Change Group, a consulting company, to research and design new recycling bin stickers, inspirational posters, and clinical recycling guides as well as facilitate user focus groups. Six clinical units at St. Paul’s Hospital were chosen to receive the new signage along with education opportunities over a pilot period of three months, while quantitative and qualitative data was collected before and after the pilot to test the effectiveness of all the tools.

The results show an overall decrease in recycling bin contamination and increase in staff engagement with recycling although unexpectedly, results were mixed or negative for waste diversion and active use of recycling bins. These surprising results highlight the ongoing complexity and nuances of recycling in the health care context where patient care priorities, product changes, and recycling logistics often work against recycling improvement.

Overall learning highlights include:

  • Access to recycling bins in convenient areas for staff is key. Space planning in new builds and renovations to accommodate waste and recycling bins will be important for waste diversion improvements.
  • Staff engagement is needed to maintain momentum. Encouraging staff to join the Green+Leaders, a volunteer network for environmental sustainability leaders, can keep recycling top of mind even after project completion.
  • Ongoing long-term waste studies are needed to understand the waste and recycling data in clinical areas. One-time audits are not enough to get a comprehensive view of what is going on.
  • Multiple, overlapping communications initiatives is the most effective way to engage with clinical staff