Before the COVID-19 outbreak, personal protective equipment (PPE) was a significant part of total waste volume for hospitals, with one study from the American Nurses Association finding that PPE accounted for 43 percent of solid waste from hospitals during infectious disease procedures.
Medical staff are working long hours to save lives, while workers at essential businesses must put in extra shifts to keep shelves stocked and ship out goods. Facing these strains on their service capacity, PPE may be incorrectly disposed at higher rates than usual.
A zero-waste software company is helping control the spread of COVID-19 at hospitals and essential businesses by offering tracking software for PPE.
Since March, the majority of the workforce began working from home resulting in commercial waste collections dropping significantly. Immediately sensing the need to be a part of the solution to the pandemic, Zabble pivoted to helping medical facilities and essential businesses monitor contamination of PPE and wipes to reduce exposure to workers handling solid waste.
Zabble is offering its retooled Zabble Zero app and ready-to-print signs for free and adjusting its “Zero Waste” motto to “Zero Spread” for this campaign.
“We also created targeted signage to complement that message and allow facilities to share correct information on how to dispose of potentially infectious items correctly and safeguard workers handling waste,” says Nikhil Balachandran, CEO of Zabble.
Zabble also is offering sign-generating software and ready to print posters with guidelines for safely disposing of waste during the pandemic, in addition to its mobile app and web dashboard to identify, track and respond quickly when PPE is placed in the wrong bin.
“During this COVID-19 pandemic time and the subsequent recovery phase, we're dedicating our expertise and offering our Zabble Zero suite of software tools for free to organizations deemed essential,” says Balachandran.
Zabble’s mobile app and web dashboard to identify, track and respond when PPE is placed in the wrong bin. Using Zabble Zero, facility staff can tag PPE or other potentially infected items in the wrong bin, and specify the location by building, department, floor or individual waste receptacle. An automated workflow starting with an email is sent to the right department or staff member in real-time with all the necessary information to remediate the issue.
“We have built a closed loop system for generators to not only identify contamination, maintenance and operational information around waste within their facility but also communicate that in real-time to the right stakeholders for on-going education and remediation,” says Balachandran.
Zabble Zero is a cloud-based waste tracking and workflow automation software with real-time analytics for zero waste programs for generators. The software has been designed to assimilate and aggregate in real-time different types and sources of data such as items found in receptacles located inside or outside the building, metadata on the bins themselves, their location, fullness, contamination, context within the building, images, timestamps and service levels from hauler invoice data.
“Essentially, each generator can design their own end-end software platform to monitor all operational information related to waste without having to spend 100s of thousands of dollars or rely on spreadsheets from different sources to fully analyze and contextualize their zero waste program,” says Balachandran.
An intuitive workflow allows the user to tag the contaminants along with location and temporal contextual information after taking a picture as evidence. Zabble tracks all the items accepted or rejected by local jurisdictions and haulers where the facility is based. A user can tag an image with any type of item such as plastic bags, food scraps or Styrofoam found in their waste streams.
“However, for COVID-19, we have created some pre-set templates based on recommendations from the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and local jurisdictions to properly dispose of single-use PPE and cleaning material,” says Balachandran. “The generator decides the granularity of details within a contamination family. For example, an image can be tagged as containing PPE or can be further broken down to indicate the presence of masks, gloves, face shields, etc.”
Daniel Chau, recycling and waste reduction program manager for the University of California San Francisco, has the tool installed for designated staff who sort waste or perform quality checks at the loading docks of all buildings to look for contamination and usage. The tool allows the university to track contamination, (pre- and post-) diversion rates of specific buildings, missed pickups by the waste hauler, and reporting illegal dumping.
“With a single platform, the combination of issues can be reported easily and I will receive notifications so they can be dealt with quickly,” says Chau. “The Recycling Program had been collecting all this data before but it was via text or noting on sheets and would need to be reported after the route was completed. There was a lot of room for improving the efficiency and that was what Zabble had offered. The savings from staff time balanced out the cost of the platform and it also freed up more time for the staff to focus on other tasks.”
With the COVID-19 crisis, the app has allowed the University of California San Francisco to track PPE contamination in the waste stream. The platform also offers informational posters focused on PPE and cleaning supplies that are commonly tossed into the wrong waste stream. It is currently being offered for those in the university’s Medical Center, as they have seen high contamination rates.
Zabble has help streamline a number of processes for the Recycling Program.
“The customization that the platform can offer makes it really useful as it fits the needs of the program,” says Chau. “Zabble is constantly asking what problems the program is currently working on and they look for solutions to help us in any way they can. The attention to details of discussing issues to finding the solutions reflects well in the product.”
Zabble’s software platform is specifically meant for large organizations with zero waste goals that own, manage or operate multiple buildings who need a platform to organize their waste and operational data to maintain progress toward those goals.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic time, we are offering our software for free to hospitals, medical facilities, labs and other essential businesses that either need to communicate to staff handling waste or to their tenants, occupants and visitors,” says Balachandran.
Chau says that within the waste industry, technology has always been behind as metrics for water and energy can be measured and reported to great details.
“Zabble has been able to provide us with a tool that puts on that same plane as my colleagues in the other fields. Being able to look into the details on a granular level or from a higher perspective helps us create outreach to the community and also propose new programs,” says Chau.