Image reflecting public health risk from regulated medical waste

Healthcare Waste and Why it is important

The health sector, whose mission is protecting and promoting health, makes a major contribution to the climate crisis – the greatest health threat of the 21st century – and therefore has an important role to play in resolving it.

Health care’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4% of global net emissions (2 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent).

The global health care climate footprint is equivalent to the annual Greenhouse gas emissions from 514 coal-fired power plants.

If the health sector were a country it would be the fifth-largest emitter on the planet.

Source: HCWH & ARUP Sept 2019: “Health Care’s Climate Footprint

Incineration - an unsustainable global problem

The current practice of incineration of all healthcare waste is unsustainable. The risk to reputation when your brand/label is found in the environment, combined with the constant risk to public safety with the transport of infectious waste on our public highways, together are enough to drive for a better solution.

Add to this the long term implications on the atmosphere and environment through incineration and we are storing up too big a problem for future generations.

  • According to Healthcare Without Harm: Today, 179 of the worlds countries are parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. It aims to minimize and, where feasible, eliminate over 20 of the most environmentally harmful chemical and groups of chemicals known to science.
  • Of these chemicals, the chlorinated dioxins and furans, PCBs, hexachlorobenzene and pentachlorobenzene are all unintentionally produced by incineration. Indeed, incineration and open burning of municipal and medical waste rank amongst the largest sources of these chemicals in most countries of the world.
  • In keeping with this, the Stockholm Convention states that priority should be given to technologies that prevent the formation and release of dioxins and furans, among others. Similarly, the World Health Organisation policy on safe and sustainable healthcare waste management calls for the effective, scaled-up promotion of non-incineration technologies.

Planning a Better Way

The bulk of healthcare waste is produced by hospitals. Improper treatment and disposal of healthcare waste pose serious hazards of disease transmission due to exposures to infectious agents among waste pickers, waste workers, health workers, patients, and the community in general.

Planning and implementation of a healthcare waste management system must address compliance with regulations, defining roles and responsibilities of healthcare staff, specific procedures, and training. Incineration without adequate pollution control exposes waste workers and the community to toxic contaminants in air emissions and ash.

Treatment technologies are an integral part of a healthcare waste management system which includes both best available technologies and best environmental practices.

Segregation is the key to efficient healthcare waste management. Other elements of healthcare waste management are: waste classification, waste minimization, containerization, color coding, labeling, signage, handling, transport, storage, treatment, and final disposal.

The Envetec Team is here to help you assess, plan and implement onsite biohazardous waste treatment - and to support continuous process improvement.