Medical Waste Management

In order to fulfill the medical ethic to "first do no harm," health care providers have a responsibility to manage waste in ways that protect the public and the environment. 

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

The first step is waste minimization and separation. Minimizing waste not only protects people and the environment, but it can save facilities substantial amounts of money. Waste minimization techniques include:

  • Source reduction: Minimizing or eliminating the generation of waste at the source itself through techniques such as product substitution, inventory control, technology change and good operating practices. Through purchasing and product substitution, toxicity of waste can also be reduced.

  • Separation: Separating different types of waste at the point of generation and keeping them isolated from each other. By doing this, appropriate resource recovery and recycling techniques can be applied to each separate waste stream. The amounts of infectious waste, hazardous waste and low-level radioactive waste that must be treated according to special (and usually costly) requirements are minimized. If not separated, all hospital waste must be treated as potentially infectious. 

  • Resource recovery and recycling: Recovery and reuse of materials from the waste stream. The majority of waste from health care facilities is surprisingly similar to that of an office building or hotel - paper, cardboard and food waste. Hospitals can implement fairly simple programs that divert these materials from the solid waste stream, lowering disposal costs.

After health care waste is minimized and separated, the infectious waste stream must then be treated to prevent the spread of disease. Cost-effective technologies are now available that are safer and cleaner than incineration and just as effective at rendering medical waste harmless. To learn more about managing medical waste, visit Health Care Without Harm's website.

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