5 Ways to Reduce Medical Waste: Eco-friendly Practices in Hospitals

5 Ways to Reduce Medical Waste: Eco-friendly Practices in Hospitals

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By Hernaldo Turrillo

Remember how many gloves and masks you went through during the COVID-19 pandemic? If you thought you produced too much waste that year, an average hospital has much more daily. Masks, gloves, syringes, swabs, bottles, and tablets are some of the most common medical waste produced in a hospital.

Medical waste production by hospitals is a serious environmental issue. A significant amount of medical waste is plastic, which sits in landfills for years without degrading. To make our hospitals more eco-friendly, we must take action to reduce waste generation and improve waste management in hospitals.

Here are some ways to make hospitals more eco-friendly:

1.       Hire Experts in Medical Waste Reduction

The generation of medical waste isn’t just an environmental issue. Improper waste management is also a public health issue. If we generate a lot of contaminated waste and do not dispose of it properly, we risk the spread of diseases in our communities.

Medical waste is a significant concern, but professionals with a public health degree are pioneering eco-friendly solutions in hospitals to minimize environmental impacts. Public health specialists can create policies that not only reduce waste production but also enhance its disposal and management. Aspiring professionals can simultaneously work and upgrade their skills by participating in MPH programs online.

  1. Segregate Medical Waste

Some medical waste is recyclable; the rest is a biohazard and must be disposed of properly. You should always segregate medical waste and ensure people dump the waste in distinct bins.

Generally, white bins are for recyclable materials. This waste is not biohazardous and consists of paper waste or plastic wrapping. By recycling this waste, you can make your hospital more eco-friendly. Then, you have sharp debris. It is biohazardous waste that can injure people and infect them. Examples include syringe needles, microscope slides, test tubes, and broken petri dishes. Most hospitals use a red bin for this waste. The third type of medical waste is biohazardous waste, generally put in a yellow container. This waste includes blood, urine, and tissue samples. If a material that was to go to the white bin gets contaminated, like bloody paper, you should dispose of it in the yellow bin.

3.       Practice the Three Rs

The three Rs are the standard of eco-friendly waste management. The three Rs include reuse, reduce, and recycle, and following them can drastically reduce your hospital waste and make it sustainable.

In several ways, you can reuse, reduce, or recycle in a hospital environment. While there are fewer reusing opportunities in a hospital due to contamination risk, you can still reuse washable cups and thermometer probes. To reuse items, ensure they have less chance of cross-contamination. Keep reusable items in good condition, cleaned, and refurbished.

Reducing your waste is easier: through proper inventory management, you can reduce the wastage of expired products. Manage a ‘just-in-time’ inventory and don’t overstock. Go digital whenever you can to minimize waste; for example, send patients’ test results on their phones instead of handing them a physical copy. Doing so would also reduce the chances of duplicate tests and improve your record management.

Lastly, you can recycle much of your medical waste. However, be careful not to recycle contaminated or biohazardous material. You can recycle most of the contents of the white bin, including papers and plastics.

4.       Choose Alternatives to Incineration

The biohazardous waste from red and yellow bins cannot be recycled. Instead, it typically goes to an incinerator, where it is burned to ashes. However, incinerators are a significant pollutant as they use fossil fuels. A medical facility that uses incinerators cannot be considered eco-friendly and sustainable.

Consider alternatives to incineration; for example, you can choose incinerators that run on biofuels instead of fossil fuels. As they have a renewable energy source, they are more sustainable, and you can produce the required biofuel yourself. However, even biofuel-run incinerators release flue gases that are toxic to human health and the environment. So, experts suggest using other treatment methods like steam and microwave sterilization. Doing so will also reduce your carbon footprint.

Steam sterilization is an innovative process that uses the bactericidal properties of steam to disinfect the waste. Steam sterilization exposes the waste to saturated steam under high pressure, eliminating any infectious agents in the garbage.

Microwave sterilization uses microwaves to eradicate bacteria. It is a thermal process, as the microwaves bring about enough heat energy to inactivate any microbes. You require controlled pressure and temperature for microwave sterilization.

5.       Be Energy- and Water-Efficient

A significant amount of medical waste comes from HVAC waste products. Excessive HVAC is terrible for waste generation, consumes excessive electricity, and increases carbon footprint. You can reduce your waste generation by reducing your HVAC usage.

There are several ways to improve your building functionality to make it green. It includes incorporating natural lighting and making your HVAC systems more energy-efficient. You can also have insulation in your building design and harvest rainwater. These upgrades decrease your energy consumption and make your hospital more healthy and relaxing.

Similarly, you must also consider water efficiency. Do not waste too much water by implementing low-flow faucets or water-saving toilets. Likewise, you can install a tankless water heating system that only heats water when needed. Doing so prevents unnecessary expenses on water heating, making your hospital more eco-friendly and sustainable.

Wastewater is another issue hospitals face. A hospital generates wastewater from several sources, such as diagnostic laboratories or dialysis units. This water is contaminated, and you must treat it. Wastewater is classified into blackwater, highly contaminated water including fecal matter and urine; greywater, lightly polluted; and stormwater. The first step in wastewater management is to reduce it as much as possible. Then, treat your effluent water by installing an Effluent Treatment Plant. An effluent treatment plant treats water through a preliminary removal of solids and sludge. The pretreated water then goes to a primary and secondary clarifier, which removes the remaining pollutants through physical, chemical, and biological methods.

Conclusion

Hospitals generate a lot of medical waste, which is a significant environmental concern. They must ensure they produce as little medical waste as possible and treat what they make. Effective waste management strategy is essential to combat infectious diseases and to make a hospital more sustainable.

While hospitals will produce some waste, they must focus on reducing and recycling to minimize environmental impact. By following the three Rs and segregating medical waste, they can make their hospital more eco-friendly.

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