Any item that comes in contact with bodily fluids or any other part of the body can be considered general medical waste.
There are several types of medical waste categorized on the basis of material and how they’re used.
This is why they either fall under the hazardous or nonhazardous category.
It is important to understand that medical waste is a byproduct of most healthcare facilities, such as laboratories, hospitals, dentists, and clinics.
It is unethical and unhygienic to use the same medical equipment on more than one patient, especially if it is not meant to be reusable.
Even when a dentist does a full mouth checkup, they use a fresh set of tools every time.
Of course, metal tools are not thrown away after each use but are thoroughly sanitized and repackaged for new patients.
On the other hand, disposable items, such as cotton pads, cotton buds, wipes, bandages, or any other material, are meant to be thrown out after a single use.
Even if it visibly seems unused, it needs to be disposed of properly if it came in contact with a patient’s body.
Medical Waste Categories
According to the government’s medical waste guidance, medical waste can be categorized into the following categories:
This generally contains typical office and household waste
This could be any byproduct that could carry a risk of infection for other humans and animals.
Most likely, these products contain human tissue, blood, or any other contaminated body fluids.
This kind of waste is not infectious but can be incredibly dangerous.
This category usually points toward surgical equipment, needles, chemical waste, or other sharp tools used in medical procedures and checkups.
Any medical waste that is generated after radioactive treatments is aptly called radioactive waste.
This most likely points towards cancer traces of radiation and nuclear elements.
Since medical waste is not safe for the environment, it is supposed to be disposed of properly.
Let’s take a closer look.
How To Dispose of Medical Waste?
Hospitals in developed countries all around the world take extra care of the waste they produce.
Undoubtedly, every hospital or health care facility creates a lot of waste that can be harmful to the environment if it’s not disposed of properly.
Medical Waste Disposal Techniques
For hospitals and health care facilities to dispose of medical waste, the following techniques are put into action:
- Chemical Disinfection
- Microwave Disinfection
- Steam Autoclave Disinfection
- Gas Sterilization
- Thermal Inactivation
- Landfills and Sewage
Let’s take a look at each of these in detail. The medical waste disposal method depends on the type of medical waste, location, use, costs, and many other factors.
Not every state uses all medical waste disposal methods.
The chemical disinfection process involves using strong chemical agents such as chlorine for disinfection purposes.
This particular process is appropriate for liquid waste but can also be used to treat solid waste.
For effective usage, you can consider chemical disinfection based on:
- The type and biology of microorganisms found in the medical waste,
- The degree of contamination in the product, and
- The type of disinfectant that you are using in terms of quantity and concentration.
Sometimes the mixing requirements of the chemical as well as the contact time between the material and the chemical also vary.
In some cases, health care facilities also grind down their medical waste before exposing it to a liquid chemical disinfectant.
The grinding process ensures that the chemical agent is able to have an impact on every waste material, and no contamination is left behind.
Once the chemical disinfection is complete, all that is required further is to place it into the sewer system while solid residues are sent to landfills in the area.
The microwave disinfection technology is relatively new compared to other older medical waste disposal methods.
First, the medical waste is shredded and mixed with water. It is then placed in a microwave-like technology to be internally heated.
The high heat temperatures neutralize all biological elements found in the medical waste eliminating any contamination.
The microwave technology is connected with computerized control systems that insured proper effectiveness and this infection based on medical parameters.
Microwave technology reportedly uses less energy compared to an incinerator. It also produces a low volume due to the shredding process.
Steam Autoclave Disinfection
Steam autoclave disinfection or autoclaving is a simple steam sterilization process and a common alternative to incineration.
The reason why autoclaving is used widely in healthcare facilities is that it does not have any side effects for health and saves utility costs.
The autoclave method sterilizes and disinfects any medical waste before it is sent to landfills for final disposal.
All medical waste is added into a bag, which is then placed into a steam chamber.
Once the bags are put in, steam is released for a particular time with controlled temperature and pressure.
This destroys any microorganisms found in the medical waste that could contaminate further properties or inhabitants.
More than 90% of regulated medical waste can be disposed of through autoclave.
However, the steam autoclave disinfection method is not suitable for toxic chemical waste.
Incineration is one of the oldest medical waste disposal procedures that health care facilities have been using to dispose of their material.
All medical waste is burned at incredibly high temperatures that go up to 1800 to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in this process.
This process is incredibly quick and easy because the hospital can carry out on-site incineration. However, a major drawback is the carbon footprint that it leaves.
Some states encourage incineration as the preferred method of medical waste disposal. However, the emissions they produce cannot – and should not – be ignored.
Most hospitals have incinerators that deal with cremated body waste and other medical waste supplies.
The gas sterilization medical waste disposal process requires all medical waste material to be put in an airtight chamber.
This chamber is then treated with a sterilizing agent such as formaldehyde or ethylene oxide.
When these gases come in contact with medical waste, they can easily kill infectious and harmful agents.
It is important to understand that infectious waste is not meant to be treated with ethylene oxide because of its toxic nature.
Thermal inactivation works with high temperatures to kill off any infectious agents.
This particular medical waste disposal method is used for disinfecting large volumes of liquid medical waste.
Liquid medical waste is gathered in an intensely preheated chamber where it is held for a specific time at a specific temperature until the infection is destroyed.
The residue is then sent off to sewages because the liquid is no longer harmful to the environment.
Irradiation is the process of using gamma radiation from a cobalt source.
These radiations sterilize medical waste and destroy all microorganisms that can cause further infections.
This medical waste disposal method is not popular compared to others because of its high operating costs. Other than operating costs, even cobalt is an incredibly expensive element.
Therefore, it is usually discouraged to manage medical waste disposal.
Other than monetary concerns, irradiation also does not have 100% results when trying to achieve adequate disinfection.
Other methods such as microwave and autoclaving give 100% results when it comes to medical waste disposal.
This is why they are widely used in healthcare facilities across several countries.
Landfill Dumping & Sewage
Area landfills and sewages are the final destinations for medical waste solids and liquids.
The methods discussed above work when you’re trying to kill bacteria, infection agents, and all microorganisms in waste products rather than completely getting rid of the product itself.
Processes such as incineration can burn things to a crisp; however, other methods, such as microwaving and irradiation, produce further solid or liquid waste that needs to be either sent off to a landfill or a sewer.
These materials are no longer toxic or infectious and can be disposed of or recycled like any other household or office waste that comes from our homes.
Important Things To Understand About Medical Waste
- To ensure environmental health and safety, it is imperative to manage medical waste properly;
- Health officers should regularly inspect hospitals, incinerators, and landfills located in different jurisdictions so that every medical facility is following the proper rules;
- Developing countries that do not have the latest technology should work towards finding alternatives that can properly dispose of medical waste;
- It is imperative to raise awareness and educate the general public when it comes to medical waste issues. This is because medical waste poses a risk of people and animals dying due to improper disposal;
- Proper medical waste management procedures from developed countries should be provided to developing countries in form of an action plan;
- A hospital waste management committee should oversee all medical waste disposal based on district or jurisdiction;
- Training programs and evaluations should be carried out in every country to determine the caliber of medical waste disposal.
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