How to Manage Waste in Healthcare Facilities
How to Manage Waste in Healthcare Facilities. Waste management is a vital aspect of healthcare. It involves the proper handling and disposal of waste generated by healthcare activities, such as diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases. Waste management protects human health and the environment from the potential risks of waste, such as infection, toxicity, and radiation.
In this article, we will discuss the different types of waste, the disposal methods, the regulations, and the best practices for waste management in healthcare facilities.
Types of Waste
Healthcare facilities produce various kinds of waste, depending on the nature and source of the activity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 85% of the waste is general, non-hazardous waste that is similar to domestic waste. The remaining 15% is hazardous waste that may be infectious, chemical, or radioactive.
The main types of waste are:
- Infectious waste: This is waste that is contaminated with blood, body fluids, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). It can pose a serious risk to human health if it is not properly disposed of. Examples of infectious waste include discarded diagnostic samples, cultures, and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work, waste from patients with infections, such as swabs, bandages, and disposable medical devices.
- Pathological waste: This is waste that consists of human tissues, organs or fluids, body parts, and contaminated animal carcasses. It can also pose a risk to human health if it is not properly disposed of.
- Sharps waste: This is waste that contains items that can pierce or cut the skin, such as syringes, needles, disposable scalpels, and blades. It can cause injury and infection if it is not properly disposed of.
- Chemical waste: This is waste that can cause harm to human health or the environment. It includes items such as 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: This is waste that consists of expired, unused, and contaminated drugs and vaccines. It can cause harm to human health or the environment if it is not properly disposed of.
- Cytotoxic waste: This is waste that contains 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. It can cause harm to human health or the environment if it is not properly disposed of.
- Radioactive waste: This is waste that contains radioactive materials from diagnostic or therapeutic procedures. It can cause harm to human health or the environment if it is not properly disposed of.
There are different methods for disposing of waste from healthcare facilities. The most common methods are:
- Incineration: This is the process of burning waste at a high temperature. It is a safe and effective method of disposing of hazardous waste2. It reduces the volume and weight of the waste and destroys pathogens and chemicals. However, it can also produce harmful emissions such as dioxins, furans, and particulate matter if it is not done properly1.
- Autoclaving: This is the process of using high-pressure steam to sterilize waste. It is a safe and effective method of disposing of infectious waste2. It kills microorganisms and reduces the volume and weight of the waste. However, it does not destroy chemicals or radioactive materials.
- Chemical treatment: This is the process of using chemicals to destroy or deactivate waste. It is a safe and effective method of disposing of biomedical waste2. It destroys pathogens and chemicals and reduces the volume and weight of the waste. However, it does not destroy radioactive materials.
- Landfilling: This is the process of burying waste in the ground. It is a safe and effective method of disposing of non-hazardous waste2. It isolates the waste from the environment and prevents its release into water sources or air. However, it requires adequate space and monitoring.
The management of healthcare waste is regulated by various agencies at different levels. The main agencies are:
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA regulates the disposal of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The EPA sets standards for generators, transporters, and treatment facilities of hazardous waste3.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): OSHA regulates the worker safety when coming into contact with biomedical waste under the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. OSHA sets standards for protecting workers from exposure to blood and OPIM.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The CDC provides guidance on the management of infectious waste under the Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities. The CDC recommends practices for preventing the transmission of pathogens from waste to patients, workers, and the public.
There are some best practices that healthcare facilities can follow to improve their waste management. These best practices include:
- Segregation of waste: This is the process of separating waste into different categories, such as hazardous waste, biomedical waste, and non-hazardous waste. Segregation of waste helps to ensure that waste is disposed of properly and efficiently. It also helps to reduce the amount and cost of waste treatment and disposal.
- Proper labeling of waste: This is the process of labeling waste with the appropriate hazard symbol and information. Proper labeling of waste helps to ensure that waste is handled and disposed of safely and correctly. It also helps to prevent accidents and errors during waste management.
- Secure storage of waste: This is the process of storing waste in a secure location that is inaccessible to unauthorized persons or animals. Secure storage of waste helps to prevent theft, vandalism, or release of waste into the environment. It also helps to maintain the quality and integrity of the waste until it is treated or disposed of.
- Regular audits of waste management practices: This is the process of regularly reviewing and evaluating waste management practices to identify and correct any problems or gaps. Regular audits of waste management practices help to ensure that waste is managed in compliance with regulations and standards. They also help to improve the performance and efficiency of waste management.
Waste management is an essential part of healthcare. It protects human health and the environment from the potential risks of waste, such as infection, toxicity, and radiation. Healthcare facilities can improve their waste management by following the different types of waste, the disposal methods, the regulations, and the best practices. By segregating waste, properly labeling waste, securely storing waste, and regularly auditing waste management practices, healthcare facilities can ensure that their waste is managed safely and responsibly.
: Health-care waste. (2018). Retrieved May 16, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/health-care-waste
: What are the Different Methods of Health Care Waste Management? (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2023, from https://www.publichealthnotes.com/what-are-the-different-methods-of-health-care-waste-management/
: Medical Waste | Background | Environmental Guidelines | Guidelines Library | Infection Control | CDC. (n.d.). Retrieved May 16, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/infectioncontrol/guidelines/environmental/background/medical-waste.html