When it comes to waste, the first picture that comes to mind is a garbage landfill site full of plastic waste and scavenger birds looming in the sky. One significant type of waste that is often overlooked is the biomedical waste. This is partly owing to lack of knowledge and with this article it is aimed to shed some light in the havoc that can be unleashed if the biomedical waste is not treated carefully.
What are the types of biomedical waste?
Biomedical waste can be generated from hospitals, pathological laboratories, mortuaries, autopsy centers, blood banks, animal research facilities, nursing homes for the elderly etc. Based on the nature of the waste, it can be primarily classified into following major categories:
- Infectious waste: waste contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids (e.g. from discarded diagnostic samples), cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work (e.g. waste from autopsies and infected animals from laboratories), or waste from patients with infections (e.g. swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices).
- Pathological waste: human.animal tissues, organs or fluids, body parts and contaminated animal carcasses
- Sharp waste: syringes, needles, disposable scalpels and blades
- Chemical waste: for example solvents and reagents used for laboratory preparations, disinfectants, sterilants and heavy metals contained in medical devices (e.g. mercury in broken thermometers) and batteries
- Pharmaceutical waste: expired, unused and contaminated drugs and vaccines
- Cyctotoxic waste: waste containing substances with genotoxic properties (i.e. highly hazardous substances that are, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic), such as cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites
- Radioactive waste: products contaminated by radionuclides including radioactive diagnostic material or radiotherapeutic materials
- Solid waste: includes non-sharp items contaminated with any bodily fluids or biological material. For example: gloves, pipettes, towels, or culture.
- Liquid waste: includes bulk quantities of blood or bodily fluids.
- Sharp waste: includes any materials that can puncture or pierce through skin and is contaminated with biological material that can risk transmission or release to the environment. For example: needles, syringes, scalpels, microscopic slides, small broken glass or tubes.
- Pathological waste: includes human organs, tissues and body parts with the exception of teeth.
Does it pose a risk?
It is crucial to treat biomedical waste because improper management of waste generated in health care facilities poses a direct health hazard to the community, the health care workers and on the environment. It is important for healthcare facilities to take caution while handling biohazardous material and that only trained personnel handle and transcript this type of waste for disposal.
While about 85% of the net biomedical waste generated is non-hazardous waste, the residual 15% is indeed hazardous material that may be infectious, chemical or radioactive. There are extensive regulatory guidelines laid out by the World Health Organization (WHO) that strictly govern how the particular type of biomedical waste is to be treated and must be strictly adhered to. This includes aspects like regulatory framework, planning issues, waste minimization and recycling, handling, storage and transportation, treatment and disposal options.
However, biomedical waste is often not separated into hazardous or non-hazardous wastes in low-income countries making the real quantity of hazardous waste much higher.
There are health and environmental risks posed if one were to simply dump the medical waste at a landfill without any pre-treatment/decontamination. Treatment and disposal of medical waste may pose health risks indirectly through the release of pathogens and toxic pollutants into the environment. The main environmental problem is that the disposal of untreated medical wastes in landfills can lead to the contamination of drinking, surface, and ground waters.
What are the existing solutions?
Existing technologies like incineration or autoclaves for biomedical waste treatment on-site have existed for a while. But none of these technologies were innovative and eco-friendly. Indeed, incinerators reject CO2 emissions and furans whereas autoclaves consume a lot of water and rejects a contaminated water after treatment. To this end, AMB Ecosteryl has developed micro-wave technology which only requires an electric connection, there are no emissions, nor rejections of anything. They now have about 170 machines installed in 50+ countries all over the world.
DISCLAIMER: This guest feature was jointly co-authored with Justin Petit, Sales Representative at AMB Ecosteryl, that develops new equipment and machinery for recycling, recovery and processing of medical waste.