Healthcare facilities generate different kinds of wastes of which medical waste is just one. The facilities that fall into this category include blood banks, hospitals, veterinary clinics, physicians’ offices, laboratories, medical research facilities and dental practices. Medical waste can be defined as healthcare waste that could be contaminated by body fluids, blood as well as other materials that could potentially be infectious. Regulated medical waste is the name by which this type of waste commonly goes by. According to the Practice Greenhealth Sustainability Benchmark Report 2015, one regular operating room results in 5.4 tons of waste every year, which costs the hospital $5.243.
Medical Waste Disposal and Treatment
- Sharps Disposal
Waste workers as well as the public are at risk when needles as well as other sharp objects are not discarded the right way. Waste workers may find themselves in danger of a needle stick, or may face threats of infection, should containers that have not been properly secured be placed within the garbage trucks and break open. In some cases, needles are sent by mistake to recycling facilities posing a threat to workers there as well. When needles or loose sharps are placed in a plastic garbage bag, housekeepers and janitors are at risk of needle pricks. Needles that have been used can then infect others with diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.
- Household Medical Waste Disposal
Following the simple rules of disposal can help prevent pollution, illness and injury. Make sure that your sharp objects, syringes, needles and lancets are all placed in a metal or hard plastic container with a tight and secure lid. Reinforcing the lid prior to disposal with heavy-duty tape is also recommended. Clear plastic containers or glass containers should not be used for the disposal of medical waste and you should never use a container that you want to recycle. Additionally, ensure that any such container is kept away from the reach of both your pets and children. Medical gloves, disposable sheets and soiled bandages should all be placed in a plastic bag that is then securely fastened. Only then can you put them in the trash. Remember that sharps containers can never be recycled.
- Dealing with the Problem
Intermountain Healthcare is working with Ethicon, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that produces surgical devices, in a bid to deal with this problem. They are also working on reducing operating room expenses and waste reduction using a circular systems approach. Using this approach, intermountain was able to save $250,000 on various medical devices. This was a total of 22% on their entire expenditure totaling $1.1 million. The waste that they diverted from landfills was 59,964 lbs., which resulted in 35,978.4 lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions being avoided.
- Reprocess for Landfill Waste Diversion
When you reprocess, you divert waste that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. In addition, it is cheaper to buy devices that have been reprocessed when you compare it with new ones. According to Sterilmed, it is 50% cheaper to purchase an average single-use device that has been reprocessed and it will give a service that is equally good. Sterilmed is a manufacturer of medical devices registered by the FDA. Their products must meet the same level of functionality, sterilization and cleanliness as those made by the original manufacturer.
In order to see benefits in the environment and achieve cost reductions, it is important to have the buy in of all stakeholders including the manufacturers of original equipment, makers of reprocessed devices, purchaser, surgeons and officers. This concept is not just limited to the circular system approach, it is critical to the improvement of the greater healthcare industry environmental performance that has the potential to save as much as $15 billion within a 10 year period by simply adopting practices that are more sustainable. Recycling is no longer seen as the answer to this problem. There is a need to reduce as well as reuse.