The Positive Impact of Proper Medical Waste Management on Our Environment
February 15, 2019

How to properly dispose of waste is a growing concern. You may have heard how proper recycling of items helps to protect the environment, but this is not the only waste that needs our care. Proper medical waste disposal is a vital concern for protecting our world. Numerous medical wastes exist which need adequate disposal to protect our environment. These are a few of those materials.

What is considered Medical Waste?

Medical facilities create a waste all of their own, that if not disposed of correctly will seriously harm the environment and those who come in contact with it. Some of the materials include sharps, pharmaceutical and radioactive materials, biohazards; trace chemo, and RCRA hazards.
These materials are all designed to go into color-coded bins that identify what they are and how they should be disposed of when taken by disposal companies. Biomedical wastes are to be placed in red containers. These wastes include blood products, contaminated personnel protective equipment, infectious waste, IV tubing, stacks, and cultures. All trace chemo material should be placed into a yellow container. These materials include empty syringes and needles, empty vials, wipes, packaging, gloves, gowns, empty IVs, and ampules.
When your disposal company picks these containers up, they will transport them according to specific regulations set forth by OSHA and other governing agencies controlling medical waste. Keeping materials separated into their proper colored bins is essential as they are handled differently during the disposal process, so they do not cause harm to the environment or human health.
These are some of the medical waste materials and the colored bins they should be stored in:
Red Containers- these containers are used for ‘sharps’
Guide wires
Broken glass
Other ‘sharp’ instruments
Large Red Containers with liner-these are to hold biohazardous materials
Blood products
PPE (equipment)
Infectious waste
Contaminated personnel protectives
IV tubing
Yellow Containers- trace chemotherapy waste that has no content remaining inside of them, as well as PPE that has not been saturated
Empty IV tubing
Empty vials
Empty syringe
Black Container-RCRA hazardous materials which will make up about ninety-nine percent of your RX waste
Rx samples
Tablets and capsules
Ointments, creams, lotions which should be capped or in a resealable bag
Your P-listed acutely hazardous waste such as nicotine, Coumadin, warfarin, and Nicotrol can go in the black container as well as bulk chemotherapy waste such as IV bags and tubing, vials, ampoules, syringes, saturated wipes, gowns, and gloves.
Blue Containers- pharmaceutical waste
Shielded Containers with Radioactive Symbol- all radioactive materials

How Proper Medical Waste Disposal Benefits Health and Environment

You throw garbage away on a daily basis; however, throwing medical waste away has to be done by following specific rules and guidelines. You need to handle medical waste with care as it contains biohazardous and infectious materials which are capable of spreading disease virally.
The positive news regarding the disposal of medical waste is the containers used to store these materials have excellent environmental and health benefits when handled correctly. If biohazardous waste were not properly removed from your medical facility, people coming and going from your business could become seriously ill. These dangers would be present due to contaminants getting into the air they breathe.
With your proper disposal methods including accurately colored and labeled bins, you are creating a safer environment for your patients and staff, which is also healthier. Your air inside will remain free of dangerous microbes, there will be no ominous odors, and there will be nothing to attract insects. All these conditions provide you, your staff, and your patients an environment which promotes good health.

Numerous methods are used to dispose of the different medical waste created including thermal treatments, incineration, and steam sterilization among others.
Different Medical Waste Disposal Methods and their Positive Impact on Our Environment
With proper disposal and recycling of your medical waste, you minimize liability and protect your environment. Technology has enabled waste disposal services to handle medical waste safely and effectively.

Some of the methods used today include:
Steam sterilization(autoclaving)
Steam sterilization basically exposes all items to direct steam at a specified temperature and for a specified time. The four parameters involved in steam sterilization include; steam, pressure, temperature, and time to properly sterilize each item in the machine. Moist heat is the most widely used method as it has proven most dependable.
This method of disposal is nontoxic and is used on pathogenic hospital waste as it neutralizes potentially infectious agents.

Electro Pyrolysis
The process of pyrolysis is a standard and reliable solution to health-care waste. With electro pyrolysis, materials are decomposed through an application of heat. The method of pyrolysis occurs in the first step of combustion and gasification when there is an absence of oxygen which makes this process different from burning. The rate is which pyrolysis occurs depends on the temperature which for industrial applications is set to approximately 800 Fahrenheit. The positive impact created through this process is how it reduces the volume of waste.

Thermal Treatment
Medical waste technologies such as thermal treatments involve high temperatures in the disposal process. Heat is set at a high temperature to kill pathogens and when set correctly will break down hazardous chemicals. In comparison to incineration, thermal treatments are able to use a high water content of the medical waste. Water can more effectively transfer heat and help distribute it throughout the mass of waste collected.

Chemical Mechanical Systems
Chemical/Mechanical systems are used to disinfect liquid medical wastes. This process involves using chemical disinfection along with mechanical disinfection to make sure all chemicals are exposed to each part of the medical waste. Water can be added to cool the equipment used in the shredding (mechanical process), so compounds are deluded and able to be discarded in the sewage system.

There are many medical wastes created in residential buildings, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. It is critical to prevent any public or environmental hazards when these materials are disposed of. According to the EPA, incineration is the most used method of disposal for medical waste which amounts to approximately ninety percent of the materials collected.
There are three positive impacts of incinerating medical waste both to the environment and to public health. The dangerous substances contained in medical waste need to be burned under controlled temperatures. By using the incinerator, you are protecting the environment as those same chemicals would destroy it should they be thrown directly into the garbage.
Incinerators can also be used to power boilers, thus reducing the need for natural energy sources being exhausted. When an incinerator is used to utilize heat manufactured it cuts down both the cost of heating a boiler and the use of natural resources.
The waste created from incinerating medical waste can be disposed of using traditional methods. The effectiveness of the process leaves the remains safe and environmentally friendly. Since there are no adverse effects on the environment, the remains are also safe and secure around humans.

How to Promote Positive Impact of Proper Medical Waste Management with Your Employees

It can be challenging in a medical facility to manage your medical waste disposal practices properly. Promoting the positive impact these procedures have on our environment is one way to raise awareness among your employees as well as the dangers involved in not following specific rules and regulations.
Mishandling of health care waste is often due to a lack of knowledge with healthcare providers. Mismanagement of infectious medical waste causes environmental pollution as well as unpleasant odors brought on by harmful pathogens that are responsible for typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera and other serious health-related diseases. Healthcare professionals, waste handlers, and the general masses are prone to infection when they do not follow proper medical waste disposal policies.
Training health workers is proven to be an effective strategy to improve your management of medical waste. Regular training of your healthcare employees improves the practices followed in your facility and improves the impact of medical waste management in your environment.
Research has shown consistent training among healthcare professionals, and sanitary workers regarding the impact of proper medical waste disposal show a significant difference in their attitudes, practices, and persistence.

Who is Responsible for Proper Waste Management Disposal?

Due to the large volumes of medical waste created across the country every day and the impact it plays on our environment and public health, government agencies have been put in charge of regulating the disposal of these wastes. Some of these agencies; FEPA (Federal Environment Protection Agency), NESRE (National Environmental Standard and Regulation Enforcement), MSWM (Municipal Solid Waste Management), are a few of those regulating and guiding the safe handling of medical waste in order to ensure safe environmental impacts and human health concerns.

Medical wastes are categorized and grouped into blood products, sharps, glassware, cultures, and stocks of infectious agents, pathological waste and chemical or radioactive materials. These materials require special handling as described in this article. There is also a group of medical waste materials that are grouped separately as they do not come into contact with human diseases. These products include Petri-dishes and pipette used in research of plants and pathology.
Proper laboratory practice would have facilities disposing of these items through biological waste disposal; however, they are allowed to be thrown into standard trash bins as they do not contain infectious material.

Responsibility for proper waste management of medical materials falls on anyone who works in the health and waste management industries. With appropriate procedures in place and enforced, you can continue to promote positive impacts on both human health and our environment.

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