Reducing non-recoverable waste: Examining opportunities for Durable Medical Equipment (DME) reuse within UWMC and HMC

Total Amount Awarded: $39,924

Final report poster or presentation: View the PDF

We seek Green Seed Fund funding to pursue an innovative study of durable medical equipment (DME) reuse and recycling that aims to reduce non-recoverable waste generated by University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) and Harborview Medical Center (HMC). DME includes wheelchairs, walkers, shower chairs, and other assistive devices necessary for mobility and activities such as dressing, bathing, and eating. Individuals with chronic medical conditions or injuries that impair performance of daily activities may require DME. Wheelchairs, walkers, and other types of DME have the potential to be reused. Few studies have examined DME reuse or described the amount of non-recoverable waste from DME. Community organizations offer reuse programs that help reduce the amount of DME discarded into the landfill. However, at the current time, UWMC and HMC clinicians do not routinely use these resources. What is established in the literature on hospital sustainability is that employees benefit from explicit training on reuse and recycling processes in order to establish behaviors that reduce waste. Therefore, we propose a qualitative study and in-depth policy analysis to examine current processes within UWMC and HMC for prescribing and disseminating DME and to identify costs and benefits of DME reuse. Key informant interviews and focus groups will be conducted to gather data on current practices of DME reuse and recycling and to identify potential policy barriers and facilitators to reuse. Results of the policy analysis will inform the development of a training module instructing rehabilitation providers on processes for DME reuse and recycling. The outcomes of this proposed project will contribute to the campus sustainability goal of eliminating non-recoverable waste that goes into the landfill.

Relevance to UW Sustainability Goals:

Proposal goals/objectives:

Our proposed project addresses UW’s sustainability goals of eliminating non-recoverable waste and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (UW, 2009; UW, 2010) and has the following objectives:

1.      Describe the current process used by UWMC and HMC rehabilitation providers to prescribe and disseminate DME to identify potential opportunities to decrease non-recoverable waste generated by the University.

2.      Identify factors, such as patient safety, infection control, provider liability, and other policies that need to be considered with DME reuse.

3.      Describe the potential benefits and costs to patients, UW Medicine locations, and community organizations of a widespread DME reuse initiative.

4.      Create a training module for rehabilitation providers to establish employee values and behaviors that align with UW campus sustainability goals. The module will increase awareness of DME donation programs in the community and help rehabilitation providers establish the behavior of educating patients about options for DME donation.

5.      Identify other potential opportunities and recommendations for collaboration across the University to reduce non-recoverable waste generated by UWMC and HMC rehabilitation processes, as well as additional opportunities for change in rehabilitation processes that may impact hazardous waste reduction, disposal costs, or community green profile (UW, 2009; UW, 2010).

The accomplishment of these objectives will help the UW achieve its sustainability goals (UW, 2009; UW, 2010) by identifying opportunities within current UWMC and HMC rehabilitation processes to recycle or safely reuse DME, reducing the amount of non-recoverable waste generated by the University. Accomplishment of these objectives will ensure that rehabilitation providers are aware of any internal processes that may already exist for recycling scrap materials from discarded or unusable equipment and will identify strategies for provider behavior change that may be necessary for following recycling processes.

The objectives of this proposed project also address the UW’s sustainability goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (UW, 2009; UW, 2010). If DME is able to be safely reused and redistributed to patients, emissions from the production of new products would be subsequently reduced. Further, we anticipate that our policy analysis may identify other opportunities to increase efficiency in the coordination of DME reuse among patients, UW Medicine locations, and community organizations that could result in decreased travel and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.


Please see the uploaded PDF document describing the timeline of the proposed project.

Primary Faculty:
Jennifer  Pitonyak
Primary Staff:
Alan Knue
Primary Student:
Anne Ordway

This project was funded during the 2014-2015 academic year.