General waste (non-hazardous residual waste) is the type of waste that is produced in the largest quantity in Irish healthcare facilities. It is therefore an important area to consider when trying to reduce waste volumes and waste management costs.

Non-hazardous residual waste accounts for more than 60% of all waste (excluding food waste) generated in acute hospitals in Ireland. In Community hospitals it accounts for almost 70%. It is estimated that 17,000 tonnes of non-hazardous residual waste is generated by hospitals in Ireland each year. While non-hazardous residual waste is generated throughout all areas of a hospital, it has been found in acute hospitals that 60% comes from the in-patient wards, catering (canteen and kitchen), theatre and A&E.


The problem


Despite the recyclable waste services in Irish hospitals, large volumes still end up in the non-hazardous residual waste bins. Based on a series of waste surveys, Green Healthcare found that, in acute facilities, 32% of the materials found in the non-hazardous residual waste was recyclable materials. Community based facilities perform better with only 16% of the general waste found to be recyclable materials.



Why is it important?


The cost of waste varies depending on the management route. While reducing waste volumes should be an important goal for any hospital, ensuring that waste materials are properly segregated is also important. The following profile depicts the average costs associated with different waste disposal routes. From this, it is clear that it will always be cheaper to dispose of materials as mixed dry recyclables rather than as non-hazardous residual waste (as well as ensuring that valuable resources are reused).

Based on waste surveys carried out by the Green Healthcare Programme it has been found that, on average, acute hospitals could save €7,500 annually through improved segregation of basic recyclable materials. In addition, if your local waste contractor accepts healthcare specific recyclable materials, then the potential annual savings increase to €11,500. For community hospitals the savings could be in the region of between €1,000 to €1,500 per annum.

In terms of national savings, improved segregation could reduce waste management costs by between €380,000 and €550,000 each year.


Best practices to reduce waste generated

One of the most important key measurements to reduce non-hazardous residual waste and increase recycling in your facility is to ensure that your recycling bins are properly used. The following are some best practice tips that you should consider.


Make it clear what can be placed in the recycling bags

Compile a clear list of the materials that are accepted in the mixed recycling bags, and provide this to staff ahead of the roll-out of the bags and campaign. Outline that all other material should be placed in the non-hazardous residual waste bag.


Ensure recycling bags are placed in the right location

Ensure a recycling bin is provided in those areas where large volumes of packaging are generated (e.g. clean preparation rooms in wards, store rooms, etc.).

Within the room or area, position the bag where the recyclable material is generated (e.g. near workbench or near storage cupboard), rather than at the entrance to the room. Staff won’t then have to carry the bulky recyclables a distance to the bin.


Make the recycling bins easy to use

Consider using mobile bins where high volumes of recycling are generated in different areas at different times. For example, in a theatre, packaging is generated in the preparation area before the procedure and in the vicinity of the operating table during the procedure. The mobile bin can be moved to another area when needed.
Mobile bins are also beneficial if space is limited in connecting rooms (e.g. theatres, out-patients clinics and preparation rooms), and it is not possible to provide a recycling bin in each room. The mobile bin can be moved between the rooms, as needed. This also reduces the investment required for the purchase of bins.


Use different colour bins for each type of waste

Where possible use different coloured bins for each type of waste. People recognise colours and symbols quicker than reading words – so by using different colours staff can quickly recognise what type of waste should be placed in the bin.


Prevent contamination with liquid and food

Food or liquid waste (e.g. coffee) can easily contaminate a mixed recycling bag so badly that it has to be disposed of as non-hazardous residual waste.

In areas where quantities of food or liquid waste are generated (e.g. areas providing food, waiting rooms with drink facilities, etc.), consider providing a food waste bin or liquid waste bin, to prevent the contamination of the mixed recycling bags.

The segregation of the food and liquid waste will also reduce the contamination of general landfill waste bags. These bags can leak during transport, resulting in possible cleaning and slippage issues.

In general, segregated food waste is also cheaper to dispose of than when the food is disposed of in the non-hazardous residual waste stream.



An easy first step to reducing waste costs is to ensure that recyclable materials are actually recycled. In order to do this your current waste management policy should be reviewed. This should consider the following:

  1. Have a clear waste management policy in place
    Ensure there is a clear understanding of what materials should be recycled and that this is communicated to all staff. If a formal policy is in place regarding waste segregation, which is supported by hospital management, it will provide greater impetus for areas throughout the hospital to actively segregate recyclables.
  2. Examine the types of waste generated and review the general landfill and clinical waste bins provided
    Having the appropriate waste management facilities in each area of a hospital is one of the best ways of ensuring good waste segregation. For example:
    If no landfill or clinical waste is generated in an area, then make sure to remove these bins. The more bins provided, the more work is needed to empty, re-line, and clean bins.
    If only hand towels from the hand wash sink are disposed of in the non-hazardous waste bin, then place the bin next to the hand wash basin.
  3. Ensure mixed recycling facilities are provided throughout
    Cardboard is generally segregated very well in Irish hospitals, as it is produced in large volumes and is managed separately. Separately collecting and baling cardboard can provide a revenue stream to offset other waste disposal costs.
    Though all hospitals now have mixed recycling facilities, ensure that there are appropriate bins throughout the hospital.
  4. What resources for recycling are available in your facility?
    If you plan to increase recycling, ensure that you have enough space in your waste holding area to hold a compactor or extra bins, to store the recyclables.

Reusable coffee cups in Irish hospitals

Irish hospitals are taking a sustainable step by eliminating disposable coffee cups from their premises. Several hospitals across the country, including Mercy University Hospital in Cork and Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, have implemented systems that introduce reusable coffee cups in their canteeen


Cork University Hospital

Maximizing recycling and minimizing healthcare risk waste in the theatre
The work undertaken by CUH theatre staff results in a significant quantity of recyclables being segregated. A survey by GHCP showed that 40% of the total waste generated in the CUH theatre department (general, healthcare risk waste and recycling) is being segregated for recycling. This is compared to an average value of 11% in theatres in other GHCP acute facilities. If CUH’s recycling level was as low as the average value, their waste disposal costs for the theatre would increase by a minimum of €5,000 per annum.


Midlands Regional Hospital – Tullamore Minimising Healthcare Risk Waste and Maximising Recycling in the Theatre

Midlands Tullamore produces 0.5 kg less healthcare risk waste per bed day than the average GHCP facility. This equates to saving in the region of €26,000 per annum, compared to the average acute facility.


Temple St. Children’s University Hospital Waste Prevention and Diversion of Recyclables 2012

€23,800 annual saving in 2012 after the hospital implemented the improvements made by GHC team after joining the programme in 2010


This factsheet outlines what is in the general landfill waste (also known as household or domestic waste) generated in Irish hospitals. This information is based on a series of waste surveys that were carried out under the Green Healthcare Programme.

This best practice guide outlines actions to reduce the quantity of recyclables disposed of in the general landfill and clinical risk waste streams. These best practice measures have been observed in a number of healthcare facilities, which have corresponding low levels of recyclables in the landfill waste streams.

Theatre Recycling Posters

These posters were developed in conjunction with theatre staff in University Hospital Waterford and the waste contractor. They set out exactly what can go into the mixed recycling, both in the theatre scrub room and in the theatre itself.

Format: Guide       Year: 2024

Case Study - Sligo University Hospital on-site composting

See how Sligo University Hospital installed a composting machine on-site to turn food waste from the hospital into compost

Format: Case Studies       Year: 2024

Green Healthcare Sustainability Posters

Spread the word and with these posters on positive climate action. There are 6 to choose from and are A3 in size.

Format: Guide       Year: 2024

Check The Bin! Posters

Bold and easy-to-read posters such as "Recycling," "General Waste," and "Organic Waste" accompany each waste item, guiding the viewer on the ideal destination for each type of waste. The posters can be downloaded here:

Format: Graphics       Year: 2023

Bin Labels

These thoughtfully crafted labels are a vital addition to any environment, empowering everyone to make informed choices when it comes to waste disposal. The labels can be downloaded here:

Format: Graphics       Year: 2023

Bin it Right!

This visually engaging and informative piece serves as a friendly guide to help individuals make conscious choices when it comes to waste disposal. The guide can be downloaded here:

Format: Graphics       Year: 2023

Green Healthcare Program Promo Video

The Green Healthcare (GHC) Program works with Irish hospitals to Conserve Water, Reduce Healthcare Risk Waste, Reduce Food Waste, and Increase Recycling. A promo video of the GHC could be watched here:  

Format: Video       Year: 2022

What is not Healthcare Risk Waste Poster

Format: Graphics       Year: 2020