Major cruise lines contain infirmaries to care for passengers, which means there will inevitably be medical waste on board.
Taking a cruise is a popular vacation idea for families because of their all-inclusive amenities, but think of it this way: cruise ships are essentially floating cities, they require more than just room and board. Major cruise lines contain infirmaries with staff available 24 hours a day to care for passengers in the event that someone may get sick on board.
Medical centers aboard cruise ships must meet the standards established by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). Of course, cruise ships are not full-fledged floating hospitals, but they are equipped to deal with minor problems, such as sunburns, seasickness, and scrapes. Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have intensive care units which are equipped with advanced cardiac life support drugs and defibrillators, as well as electrocardiogram machines and digital X-ray machines. Many cruise ships have onboard pharmacies which stock basic medications as well.
Cruise ships and medical waste governance is a rather sticky subject; In 1998, Royal Caribbean pled guilty to several charges relating to its illegal dumping of hazardous waste and other materials, accepting a $9 million penalty and five years corporate probation. Cruise lines have yet to be classified as large generators of hazardous waste; RCRA governs any entity that creates above a certain threshold of hazardous waste, and it seems cruise lines fall short of that.
Regardless, the waste cruise ships do generate can cause harm to sensitive marine life and needs to be carefully managed so that it doesn’t find its way into bilge water, graywater, or the solid waste stream, and this includes the medical waste that is produced in infirmaries.
This can include soiled medical bandages, discarded medical gloves, cultures, and swabs. This type of waste is considered red bag waste.
Generally, a waste management company that specializes in regulated medical waste, such as Red Bags will take red bag waste and destroy the potential for harm from it. Because this waste has been contaminated by potentially infectious materials, it needs to be destroyed through an autoclave. An autoclave is like an oven that is heated to approximately 300 degrees. All regulated medical waste is placed inside for about one hour to destroy any harmful materials.
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