Medical Waste

Hospitals generate large volumes of waste that can be highly toxic and infectious, and burning and dumping this waste threatens human and environmental health.

Large urban hospitals can generate more than two million tons of waste each year. Yet many hospitals in developing countries dump all waste streams together, from reception-area trash to operating-room waste, and burn them in incinerators. Over the years the world has learned that incineration is a leading source of highly toxic dioxin, mercury, lead and other dangerous air pollutants that threaten human health and the environment.

What's more, some urban and many rural hospitals and clinics in the developing world simply discard their medical waste with regular trash and risk the spread of diseases among scavenger populations. Discarded needles and syringes may result in the spread of bloodborne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis. Others burn their waste in open fields or in small incinerators without pollution control, exposing communities downwind to toxic byproducts such as dioxins and mercury, and generating potentially hazardous ash. As health programs expand, the problem of medical waste treatment and disposal in rural areas becomes critical.

In order to fulfill the medical ethic to "first do no harm," the health care industry has a responsibility to manage waste in ways that protect the public and the environment. GAIA works closely with its ally Health Care Without Harm to eliminate the dangerous practice of medical waste incineration and to minimize the amount and toxicity of all waste generated by the health care sector. Learn more about medical waste management.

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