Medical waste disposal is much more innovative than it was decades ago. With economical choices that are also environmentally more responsible, medical waste disposal is easier, safer, and better than ever.
Believe it or not, medical waste removal and disposal is still a rather new topic considering the hundreds of years behind medical treatments and innovation. Of course, we are in a much better place in terms of technology, innovation, and better practices. What can we expect for medical waste disposal in the future and beyond?
We started realizing the need for proper medical waste removal when, in the late 1980s, beaches were being littered with disposed syringes, medications, and other healthcare-related waste, which is rather alarming.
The federal government had already established laws to protect our water resources through the River and Harbor Act of 1886 and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, but it wasn’t until 1965 that the federal government made a solid waste management plan. Congress passed the Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA), the first effort to implement a comprehensive management framework for the nation’s solid waste. The Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) of 1988 established standards for segregation, packaging, labeling and marking, and storage of the medical waste, as well as record keeping requirements and the institution of penalties for non-compliance. While medical waste disposal is primarily regulated at the state level, federal laws have dictated the safety and efficacy of how each state implements waste removal, disposal, and treatment.
Red bags: a simple, yet effective solution for cost and infection control.
One of the biggest opportunities for cost savings is proper allocation of what’s known as red bag waste versus municipal solid waste. Regulated medical waste that requires proper red bag medical waste disposal includes liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious materials. Many hospitals routinely throw 50-70% of their waste into the bio-hazardous waste stream, even though a large percentage of hospital or medical facility waste is very similar to that of an office building. The economic impact of these errors is significant: red bag waste costs up to 10 times more for disposal than municipal solid waste and up to 30 times more than recycling.
Recycling: it is possible for medical waste.
About 85 percent of hospital waste is noninfectious, according to the World Health Organization, and a bulk of that is recyclable, yet most of these materials are either landfilled or burned. Health systems are making progress in recovering medical devices and equipment such as catheters, orthopedic blades, electrosurgical electrodes, endotracheal tubes and blood pressure cuffs. There is a focus on designing products and processes to ensure products meet stringent infection control requirements while reducing or eliminating waste. Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit, is working to help hospitals divert more, especially in operating rooms where 30 percent of the waste is generated. Sometimes this is due to changing medical procedures.
Alternative Treatment Methods
The most widely used criteria for determining the efficacy of an alternative technology in decontaminating medical waste was developed by the State and Territorial Association of Alternate Treatment Technologies (STAATT). Some systems use a combination of infrared radiation and forced hot-air convection to treat the waste. The waste then is compacted, preparing it for landfill. Other systems use gamma radiation to heat the waste to disinfecting temperatures.
Much of what is being done to reduce the amount of medical waste in the environment comes with the effort to change the packaging that is used with the waste. The nature of the plastics used for medical applications and devices has changed over the years so that there is less a risk of contamination from the smoke created by incineration. There is more of an awareness of the need to handle pharmaceutical disposal more effectively to reduce groundwater contamination as well.
For centuries, we have had to deal with the problem of what to do with the solid waste we generate. As technology, science, and public health has evolved, so, too has the knowledge of proper disposal needs.
Red Bags offers medical waste disposal services including biohazardous disposal, red bag waste, and sharps disposal, all compliant with local and federal laws. Contact Red Bags to learn more.
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