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April 16, 2024
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Health

Managing Medical Waste: Best Practices for Healthcare Facilities and Beyond

Almost every medical procedure in healthcare facilities calls for fresh supplies to prevent the spread of infections. For example, as a health practitioner, you will need to wear a new set of gloves when handling a patient or use a new syringe whenever an injection is needed. All these supplies demand safe disposal after each use – which means, with each doctor visit, a lot of medical waste is piling up demanding eco-friendly and efficient disposal.

In today’s article, we will explore the different categories of medical waste, the risks associated with hazardous clinical waste, and the best practices for medical waste management. Continue reading to learn more.

Medical Waste – Overview and Types

While you might have a clue about what medical waste is, allow us to give you a detailed explanation of what it entails.

Medical wastes are the supplies used during healthcare activities, including surgery or medical testing. Typically originating from hospitals, clinics, laboratories and research facilities, healthcare waste may be infectious, radioactive or loaded with numerous chemicals. Thus, it requires responsible disposal to pose no harm to the environment or the general public.

For ease of understanding, medical wastes can be broadly placed in three categories:

– Infectious Waste

Just like the name suggests, infectious waste is materials capable of producing and transmitting an infectious disease. The materials are usually contaminated by blood, bodily fluids, or organisms that are likely pathogenic to healthy humans. Examples of infectious wastes include blood products like tubings with flowing blood, discarded cultures, stocks, specimens and any sharp items that may have been used to cause punctures or cuts.

– Hazardous Waste

If you are wondering how medical waste can affect the environment, this is it.

Hazardous waste poses threats to both humans and the environment due to its chemical and biological characteristics. There are three types of hazardous waste: pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and radioactive materials. Pharmaceuticals include over-the-counter drugs and unused or expired medication. When these products are not disposed of properly, they can contaminate water supplies. Radioactive materials are those used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. Chemicals can include anything from cleaning supplies or pesticides.

– Non-Hazardous Waste

While the name non-hazardous waste doesn’t sound like it can pose a threat, this type of waste can cause significant damage to humans and the environment. The only difference is that it takes a while before you can notice the level of damage.

Non-hazardous materials can include anything from packaging materials to paper products and food waste generated in healthcare settings.

Environmental and Public Health Risks

According to a 2023 study, medical waste poses more significant risks to public health and the environment. The waste materials contain potentially harmful microorganisms that infect healthcare professionals, patients and the general public. Additionally, these microorganisms may become drug-resistant, which can increase transmission.

When it comes to the environment, medical waste poses a threat indirectly through the release of pathogens and toxic pollutants into the environment. Here are a few ways environmental pollution is much more likely to occur.

  • The disposal of untreated healthcare wastes in landfills that are not properly constructed contaminated drinking, surface and ground waters.
  • Hazardous materials, including harsh chemicals, can infiltrate soil and water sources, contaminating ecosystems and posing long-term health risks to humans.

Regulatory Requirements and Guidelines

In order to address environmental and public health risks, regulatory agencies in Australia and beyond have established strict laws and guidelines that must be followed to manage medical waste efficiently. Below are some of the guidelines that health facilities must follow:

  • Every health service has an obligation to establish a medical waste management committee responsible for implementing the waste management plan.
  • Health services must determine each Waste Management Plan’s most appropriate geographical or functional jurisdiction.
  • Health services must consider minimising medical waste from the waste streams without compromising work standards, environmental outcomes or patient/worker safety. This may include reduction through product substitution, product modifications and procedural changes or reuse where clinically appropriate.

Effective Medical Supplies in Healthcare Waste Management

Medical waste management can be pretty expensive for healthcare facilities. Fortunately, with innovative solutions, facilities can significantly reduce the amount of medical waste and dispose of it safely. Here are the common ones that are widely used in the Australian healthcare scene:

1.     Biohazard spill kits

Biohazard spill kits contain much like everything one would need when disposing of medical waste. The kit contains instructions, a face mask with an eye shield, a polyethylene apron to help minimise exposure, single-use nitrile gloves, yellow clinical waste bags, a scoop, natural detergent and absorbent cleaning clothes. With this arsenal, you don’t have to worry about harmful microorganisms in the waste.

2.     Body fluid clean-up kits

Many infections can be spread through bodily fluids, including vomit and blood. A body fluid clean-up kit includes the necessary items to protect yourself from such incidents. Similar to a Biohazard kit, this kit contains instructions, face make, an apron, a pair of nitrile gloves, a scoop, yellow clinical waste bags, an antiseptic hand towel and absorbent cleaning clothes.

3.     Medical waste bins

After collecting medical waste and placing it into the yellow bag, you will need containers to hold the waste safely. Such bags should be stored away from patients as they may confuse them with regular garbage bags. This is where medical waste bins come into play. They are specifically designed to hold such types of waste. They are yellow, making it easy for staff to place signs promoting effective waste segregation.

4.     Sharps containers

Sharp objects like needles and scalpels are everyday equipment that can pile up and lead to infection risks if not disposed of correctly. Sharp containers are designed to hold such types of waste. Similar to medical waste bins, they are yellow and have a warning sign to show there are sharp objects in the container.

5.      Gloves

When handling medical waste, you need the best gloves to minimise exposure. The Nitrile gloves are the best option for such tasks. The single-use gloves provide full coverage to the areas vulnerable to exposure. They also come in a wide variety of colours, from blue to black.

Practical Tips & Innovative Strategies to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Medical Waste Disposal

It’s inevitable for health facilities to produce medical waste. However, there are ways to ensure proper disposal to minimise risks and environmental impacts. Here are practical tips and strategies hospitals can adopt to manage medical waste:

Use of Compostable Medical Supplies: One great innovative solution that has proven to be beneficial is using compostable medical supplies. They eliminate the need for single-use plastics that are responsible for increasing carbon footprint.

Proper Packaging and Labelling: The most effective way of reducing health risks is by ensuring that all the disposed waste is securely packed and clearly labelled. For those using medical waste bins, place signs to ensure the staff know what kind of waste they are handling and the suitable precautions to take when emptying.

Prioritise Disinfection and Sanitisation: Not all medical materials need to be trashed after use. Items like soiled linen and towels can be washed and sanitised, reducing the amount of waste. Health services have a duty to ensure that staff are trained on such matters to help reduce expenses and amount of waste.

Proper Training of Staff: Proper waste management begins with the person handling the waste in the first place. If your staff lacks knowledge and understanding of proper medical waste management strategies, you will have a hard time providing a safe and clean environment. That said, it is essential to train your staff on how to dispose of different types of waste and also ways to limit exposure when handling waste.

Wrapping Up

Investing in specialised equipment like biohazard spill kits and body fluid clean-up kits helps ensure safe containment and disposal of infectious and hazardous waste.

Medical waste in healthcare facilities should not be taken lightly. The safety of people and the environment should always be a top priority. To ensure proper waste disposal, it is essential to emphasise segregation through medical waste bins, safe containment equipment, and staff training. We hope this article was helpful!

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