As the advancements in our medical abilities continue, the medical waste those initiatives create will continue to increase as well.
Over the last decade, there have been some absolutely astounding medical breakthroughs. With advancements in things like stem cell research, HIV treatment, cancer therapies, and laparoscopic surgery, the way people receive medical treatment is changing for the better. But, that doesn’t mean we aren’t creating just as much potentially dangerous medical waste as before.
High-income countries generate on average 0.5kg of hazardous waste every single day for each hospital bed that’s being used. To put that into perspective, that’s about as much as your iPad weighs. In 2003, it was reported that Japan creates around 285,000 tonnes of infectious waste on an annual basis. Solid stats and numbers in this department are hard to come by these days, but it’s clear that obscenely large volumes of medical waste are being created around the globe on a daily basis.
The creation of this medical waste isn’t the real problem here.
It’s a necessary part of life, if we are to remain a healthy society and receive regular medical treatment like vaccines and life-saving surgeries. The problems arise when this necessary medical waste isn’t stored, managed, or disposed of properly.
A very common mistake in this area is not separating the hazardous and non-hazardous medical waste at the site of generation. Whether it’s directly or indirectly, this medical waste produces a massive risk to healthcare workers, patients, the community, and the entire planet.
In order for medical care facilities to lower this risk, they need to manage their medical waste properly. This includes storing it safely, transporting it the right way, having adequate training for all staff at all levels, and ensuring it’s disposed of properly.
Here are some tips on how medical care facilities can ensure they’re managing their medical waste in the most sustainable way possible:
HAVE A WASTE MANAGEMENT STRATEGY
If you want to optimize your waste management process, you’ve got to start with a strategy. Who holds what roles and responsibilities? How much and what type of waste are you creating? If you don’t start with benchmarks and plans, you can’t manage this monumental job properly. Facilities should start with creating a waste management committee and assign a waste management officer who is responsible for overseeing the daily waste management systems and processes.
RECYCLE & SELECT GREENER ALTERNATIVES
Minimize the medical waste you create by recycling whenever possible, and select environmentally friendly alternatives when the option exists. Look for opportunities to reduce medical waste when safety is not compromised – this is all part of having an effective waste management strategy. For example, you can sometimes use plastic containers that are recyclable, and you can choose to use non-mercury thermometers.
SEGREGATE AT POINT OF GENERATION
If you want to keep the facility and workers safe, it’s crucial that medical waste is separated from non-medical waste at the point of generation. At each site where medical waste is created, there should be properly labelled and color-coded containers that are easily and immediately accessible.
EMPLOY PROPER NEUTRALIZATION METHODS
Before your medical waste is disposed of, you must ensure the waste is properly sanitized and neutralized, in order for safe disposal to occur. Larger facilities may choose to manage this in-house, but most facilities will require the assistance of a medical waste service company. The type of sanitation process will vary based on the type of medical waste being treated, so it’s important to partner with the right company to ensure your medical waste is being properly treated and disposed of.
Managing medical waste is a necessity, and it’s not going to come in lower volumes any time soon. The best option for healthcare facilities is to start with a plan to ensure they’re managing medical waste in the most sustainable way possible.