Worldwide at least two million tons of medical waste is produced yearly. 1 Medical waste are produced by hospitals, veterinary clinics, private homes and any other medical institutes. Approximately 85% of this waste is a non-hazardous waste whereas 15% of it is a hazardous waste which could be infectious, toxic or radioactive. 2 This means that the way this waste gets recycled and what is done with the recycled materials afterwards is very important for the safety of the environment and human lives. Due to the different types of materials, fluids, textures, etc it is also important to ensure this type of waste is recycled in a special way. In this article, we will discuss how medical waste gets recycled and which methods are used in certain countries.
The Process of recycling Medical Waste
There are a few ways to get rid of medical waste. One procedure is to sterilise the waste and to put it into a sanitary landfill. Usually, such landfills are constructed well but unfortunately, it is not always environmentally friendly due to the pollution of soil and water as well as interfering with the natural habitat of animals.
A better method is a recycling process where all forms of medical waste, for example, medicine, syringes, disposable clothes, needles, etc. get shredded and then sterilised by wet steam. The shredding and steaming are done by an automated machine where no human handling of the waste is needed. There are different types and brands of these medical waste recycling machines all over the world. They all look and work in different ways. This is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose medical waste and it reduces pollution caused by this type of waste. “Healthcare facilities as a whole need to be conscientious of the burden of waste when looking at and selecting products. There are so many factors to consider—patient safety, healthcare worker safety, and the end of the process, environmental safety.” 3
COVID-19 causes increase in Medical Waste
Most of us know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big influence on many factors all over the world. One of these is medical waste. Since the virus started spreading all over the world, there has been a big increase in medical waste materials including bandages, infectious swabs, masks, gloves, needles, etc. Some of these items are also hazardous waste due to COVID-19 being highly contagious. 4 When it comes to hazardous waste like the current COVID-19 waste, of course, there are strict laws in the environmental, transportation and health fields that should be followed. There is even special training for medical staff to ensure that the waste laws are followed when disposing and collecting medical waste. The training offers different methods of the disposing of rubbish bags, labelling it, etc. 5 This method is a good development in the medical waste recycling field which is an advantage for the future.
Already existing Waste Management Companies Worldwide
AMB, a company based in Belgium, produced a machine called Ecosteryl which offers a good and environmentally friendly solution for medical waste treatment & recycling. The medical waste is shredded and decontaminated in a secured machine. In order for the machine to do its job, there is no water or steam required. Only energy and people to control the machine is needed.6 There are different sizes and models of the Ecosteryl available depending on the need of the user.
ECODAS based in France is another expert that treats and process medical waste. This includes medical waste from hospitals, clinics, other healthcare institutions, seaports, airports, slaughterhouses, and animal meat and food processing establishments.7 The ECODAS machine is an automated system that sterilises regulated medical waste and thereby reducing around 80% of the waste volume. The recycling and sterilisation include shredding and steaming of waste. Once all medical waste has been recycled by the ECODAS machine, it is safe for normal disposal and equal to normal municipal waste.8
In Zimbabwe, the company Wastinnova is responsible for medical waste management. Through environmentally sustainable methods, they dispose and recycle medical waste. Their services include collecting medical waste for disposal as well as supplying equipment for waste management. Their clients can reserve their services online through a website for disposing and tracking the waste. 9
Worldwide there are many more medical waste recycling startups developing. Here is a list of the top 11 from the USA to India and more. https://www.recyclingstartups.org/top/medical-waste/