Medical waste disposal- what is it and why is it so important?

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Medical waste disposal- what is it and why is it so important?

Waster Medical Waste Sterilisation System

What is medical waste disposal?

Medical waste disposal is an incredibly important task that must be conducted in the health care industry. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 15% of waste generated by the medical and health care industry is considered hazardous material. This means that the waste may be either infectious, toxic, or even radioactive. It is for this reason that measures must be taken to ensure safe and environmentally friendly management of medical waste disposal to avoid adverse health and environmental impacts. The purpose of this disposal is of course to protect the health of patients, medical workers, and the public. The recent COVID-19 outbreak is a prime example of how quickly a highly infectious and hazardous virus can spread, as it has gripped the world. Standing as proof of how the correct disposal of medical equipment and apparel used whilst dealing with patients who currently have a virus or illness, stops the spread and ensures the safety of all those involved.

So where are the key places that need to set up a form of medical waste disposal?

Firstly, and probably most obviously; Hospitals and other health facilities such as ambulance services, pharmacists, and dentists. As well as laboratories and research centres, mortuary and autopsy centres, animal research and testing laboratories, blood banks and collection services as well as elderly nursing homes. Furthermore, due to the current ongoing coronavirus pandemic- there are also testing centres that maintain the need to dispose of hazardous medical waste. With so many sources of waste- there is a huge need to dispose of it and to do so properly. In some larger institutions medical waste disposal systems may be brought in-house, other institutions will opt for a third-party disposal service.

What are the various types of medical waste?

According to the UK government, there are various kinds of health care waste and different guidelines on how to correctly dispose of each kind of medical waste. The various forms are categorised as follows.

Plaster waste

For the most part, plaster waste is non-infectious. However, any that is infectious should be isolated from the non-infectious and bagged in the infectious clinical waste stream and disposed of correctly.

Waste medicines

A medicine is deemed hazardous if it is ‘cytotoxic’ or ‘cytostatic’ if it’s one of the following: acutely toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic for reproduction. These hazardous medicines must be disposed of correctly to avoid any risk to people.

Sharps and related waste

Sharps waste is a type of biomedical waste comprised of used "sharps", which relates to any mechanism or object used for puncturing and cutting the skin (i.e. needles, scalpels, blades). It is classed as biohazardous waste and must be handled carefully and be involved in your medical waste disposal by either incineration or placing in an autoclave.

Anatomical waste

Anatomical waste is a subtype of pathological waste, essentially materials that are derived from a human, an example is the placenta from childbirth. Anatomical waste classified as hazardous and therefore needs to be treated as though it is infectious even if it may not be and disposed of correctly.

Bagged clinical waste

Bagged clinical waste is either infectious clinical waste (no chemicals or pharmaceuticals) which must be stored in an orange bag, or infectious clinical waste which must be disposed of in a yellow bag.

Laboratory chemicals and photochemicals

Some photochemicals and film, including X-ray related products can be classified as hazardous and must be disposed of correctly.

Offensive waste

‘Offensive waste’ is classed as non-clinical waste that’s also non-infectious and doesn’t contain any pharmaceutical or chemical substances. However, it may be unpleasant if you come into contact with it. There are two kind of offensive waste;

Healthcare offensive waste- which are things like protective clothing such as non-contaminated PPE like face masks, gowns and gloves. Sterilised laboratory waste would also come under this category.

Municipal offensive waste- this is personal hygiene waste and sanitary protection such as nappies and sanitary pads. (Municipal essentially means general/ black bag waste)

The UK government guidelines state that you must separate healthcare offensive waste from clinical and general waste. Also, if you produced more than 7kg of municipal offensive waste or more than one bag for collection then you are obliged to segregate this from your general waste.

Environmental impact of medical waste disposal

The treatment and disposal of medical waste can cause health risks by releasing pathogens and other toxic pollutants into the environment. Some waste goes to landfill, which can contaminate waters. Treatment with chemical disinfectants can affect the environment. One of the more popular methods of medical waste disposal- incineration, can result in the release of pollutants into the air which can have adverse health effects if inhaled. These are just a handful of issues that can occur and part of a big problem within the health care industry due to the amount of waste that is produced worldwide every year.

New low emission technology implemented in incinerators provide some solutions. Other alternatives are autoclaving, microwaving and steam treatment integrated with internal mixing- just like Withnell Sensors’ ALS patented Waster- which minimises the formation and release of chemicals or hazardous emissions. Waster is designed with compact equipment, providing a reduced footprint, and requiring less space for installation. Waster® combines a preliminary shredding phase with the application of a deep vacuum, removing any trace of air from the load and therefore preventing the cold spots and incomplete sterilisation. The medical waste steriliser provides 80% reduction of the original solid waste volume, reducing the medical waste disposal volume. Provides complete dryness of the waste, ensuring an easy and clean handling. The location of the shredder assures safety throughout the different phases of the treatment process. And finally, the entire treatment cycle takes place inside a tightly sealed pressure vessel, preventing the emission of unpleasant smells into the installation room.