Written by Megan Chamberlain
22 Nov 2018

Effects of Biomedical Waste on the Environment

We can all agree that the waste we create harms our environment if not disposed of properly. Go one step further and ask yourself: does biomedical waste have an effect on the environment or is damage limited to chemical and toxic exposures? Can a bloody gauze bandage or a disposable sharp used by a diabetic really do measurable damage?

 

Biomedical waste is defined as any type of waste created during a diagnostic process, the treatment of a condition or disease, or immunizations of humans or animals. It also includes any research activities or processes that involve biological testing. In essence, it’s any type of waste that contains any type of the material that may be contaminated with potentially infectious properties.

Infectious properties can be found in syringes delivering medications or chemotherapy. They can be found in bedding, bandages, or clothing contaminated with blood or bodily fluids of a person infected with a communicable disease.

Healthcare waste management, including that of biomedical waste, is as important as disposal of that waste. The impact of biomedical waste on the environment should be the concern of every employee in every healthcare facility, regardless of size or location. That’s why it’s important to identify it and segregate it properly.

 

Identifying biomedical waste

Identification of biomedical waste is the first step toward proper waste segregation. Regulations regarding the identification and processes involved in segregation, treatments, and disposal of such waste were developed in the early 1990s. Biomedical waste is divided into a number of categories:

  • Sharps
  • Blood products
  • Any type of waste contaminated with potentially infectious human blood, body fluids, or blood components
  • Pathological waste
  • Infectious waste
  • Carcasses
  • Cytotoxic waste

 

The EPA provides detailed regulations for hazardous waste generators. State laws also apply. Generators of biomedical waste need to manage it properly and have a biomedical waste management plan in place. Some facilities (based on volume of medical waste generated on a monthly basis) are encouraged to implement on-site hazardous waste management practices.

If biomedical waste is not properly handled, dangers to the environment are not only possible, but likely.

 

How does biomedical waste impact the environment?

Improper segregation of biomedical waste and different medical waste streams from the point of origin can trigger a domino-like effect on the environment that incurs dangers to people, animals, or soil and water sources.

Improper segregation and disposal of biomedical waste has the potential to contaminate groundwater sources, which in turn may infect humans and animals alike. From a hospital’s waste and storage receptacles to landfills, biomedical waste needs to be properly contained to keep it away from birds, rodents, and stray animals (as well as humans). This enhances packaging and labeling of contaminants and helps prevent the spread of illness through human and animal populations – by air, land, or water.

If not properly contained, segregated, and incinerated through on-site or off-site incineration, environmental hazards associated with improper healthcare waste management can contaminate the air we breathe through dangerous airborne particles. Radioactive particles produced with diagnostic technologies has the potential to reach a landfill or other areas of the environment, especially air. Air pollutants disseminated over huge areas of inhabited land have the potential to trigger a number of illnesses.

 

Contact with improperly disposed of biomedical wastes contribute to:

  • Lung infections
  • Parasitic infections
  • Skin infections
  • Spread of viral illnesses such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C
  • Bacteremia
  • Cholera
  • Tuberculosis

 

Needlestick injury and sharps injury incidents increase risk to health of employees on a daily basis. Risk of contamination by HIV, hepatitis B and C pathogens are of primary concern to healthcare workers inside healthcare facilities. Costs of treatments for the over 300,000 needlestick injury incidents every year add thousands of dollars to a healthcare facility’s budget.

The medical and health industry has come a long way in implementation of biomedical waste regulations for handling and disposal since the 1990s. The bulk of biomedical and/or infectious medical waste is dealt with via on-site autoclaving or incineration in many facilities throughout the U.S. Reusable containers such as those developed by Daniels Health are not only growing more popular, but are recommended, as is sharps injury reduction through proper sharps container placement.

Every medical waste generator is responsible for management of hazardous waste. On-site management is essential and is also the responsibility (ethically and legally) of the generator. Daniels Health promotes education for proper segregation of all medical waste streams (as well as federal and state laws regarding their handling).

 

Daniels Health dedicated to healthcare safety and saving the environment

When it comes to compliance, turn to Daniels Health for sustainable solutions that minimize environmental burdens, reduce the volume of medical waste going to landfills, and reducing sharps injury and costs related to their treatment. Since 2003, Daniels Health’s reusable sharps containers alone reduced the number of sharps containers going to landfills (to the tune of over 32 million!), keeping nearly 58 million pounds of plastic out of landfills.

Even small steps can help the environment, reduce CO2 carbon emissions and greenhouse gases from being released into the environment. For effective, efficient, and long-term solutions for healthcare waste management and reducing costs of such, give Daniels Health a call.

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Megan Chamberlain

Megan Chamberlain

Compliance and Digital Solutions Specialist

With a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things and a quick wit, Megan was the recipient of the Daniels Pun-Master Award 2017 and is the go-to girl for all things compliance.