Everyone lives near a hospital or GP surgery. And at times of our lives, we all need medical care. So why are people so concerned with the affects that medical disposal of municipal waste via incineration is so bad for our health?
Modern, well managed incinerators make only a small contribution to local concentrations of air pollutants. It is possible that such small additions could have an impact on health but such effect, if they exist, are likely to be very small and not detectable.
It is estimated that each of the 1,500 hospitals in the UK produce approximately 2,250 tonnes of PVC waste, which could be recycled. Initial pilots identified PVC anaesthetic masks, oxygen masks and tubing as the most frequently used medical PVC items in a hospital.
The Royal College of Physicians produced a document of less waste, more health a health professional’s guide to reducing waste. In it they wrote “The NHS is currently facing several critical challenges: unprecedented financial pressures, an increasingly stretched workforce – whose wellbeing and productivity is key to quality of care – and a requirement to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Many initiatives, such as Choosing Wisely, have highlighted areas of inefficiency and waste. The Carter review suggested £2 billion could be saved by 2020 through smart procurement and medicines optimisation. What we use and how we dispose of it has an impact not only on the NHS’s finances but the environment and population health. These simple changes will not only make significant financial savings (that can be reinvested into patient care), but also make steps towards improving efficiency and easing the demand on our services”
With that in mind, let’s explain how incineration could help. The 4 classifications that medical waste falls under are General, Infectious, Hazardous and Radioactive. Biomedical waste is incinerated in either a hospital incinerator or through industry-standard biomedical waste incinerators. These are intricate technologies that were designed to discard of these materials efficiently and conscientiously to prevent any spread of disease. Biomedical waste covers a wide range of used medical equipment. These can potentially be infectious, so they need to be disposed of safely and responsibly. Common biomedical waste items include syringes and needles, IV sets, urine bags, pathological waste, culture dishes, PPE and contaminated laboratory waste. These elements simply can't be re-used in any manner once they've been administered initially. Biomedical waste can be in the formation of liquid or solid, examples include discarded blood or extracted bodily fluids.
This type of waste is a by-product of medical processes conducted in hospitals - items are used in operations, during ongoing treatment and for diagnosing conditions. Responsible waste management when it comes to biomedical products is in the general principles of hygiene and sanitation. At the outset, when using the products, good housekeeping prevents the spread of disease from the products before they get to the stage where they need to be disposed of and incinerated.
In simple terms, biomedical waste essentially is classed as a biohazard because of the possibility for the spread of disease. Dependent on what classification of biomedical waste the disposing article falls under it could potentially be spreading radioactive waste such as the by-products of the chemotherapy process. Medicines or biomedical materials left out in the open could be fatal for animals or humans and could present risk of disease which could easily spiral out of control in densely populated areas.
By law, medical waste is categorised as dangerous and poisonous waste and is to be incinerated to stop the spread of diseases and prevent contamination but weak supervision and enforcement of the rules as well as the lack facilities of certified incinerators in some countries mean that medical waste is sometimes sent to landfill which poses huge contamination and environmental issues both today and for future generations. Here at M and S Combustion we work with medical professions globally to reduce these risks.
So, anyone at the royal college of physicians or NHS governing bodies, who would like to continue this discussion it would be great to hear from you and help you regarding the statement “The NHS has made a commitment in line with the 2008 Climate Change Act to reduce carbon emissions by 80%. Ambitions on how to achieve this are set out in the NHS Carbon reduction strategy, Saving Carbon Improving Health. Significant effort will be required to ensure existing emissions are reduced, as well as countering rising emissions associated with increasing demand on the NHS”.
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