Is hospital waste biodegradable?

This blog post will discuss the question “is hospital waste biodegradable?” and will cover issues related to it such as its impact on the environment, its composition, its making, its types, whether it can be recycled or not and its alternatives.

Is hospital waste biodegradable?

No, hospital waste is not biodegradable. Not only is hospital waste non-biodegradable, it is also harmful to the human and environment.

Hospital waste is also known as biomedical waste. It is a type of waste which includes any kind of infectious waste. It also involves waste that is linked with the formation of hospital waste that has a medical or laboratory origin such as unused bandages, packaging and infusion kits.

The hospital waste can also include biomolecules or microorganisms which should not be released in the environment.

What are non-biodegradable waste?

Non-biodegradable waste are the wastes that are unable to decompose by natural biological processes. They are also referred to as inorganic waste. Non-biodegradable waste that can be recycled is regarded as recyclable waste and the ones which cannot be recycled are known as non-recyclable waste. 

Non-biodegradable waste, unlike biodegradable waste, cannot be easily treated. Non-biodegradable wastes are those that cannot be easily broken down or dissolved by natural means. They can survive on Earth for eons without deteriorating. As a result, the threat posed by them is more than serious. 

Plastics, for example, are widely utilized material in practically every industry. Improved quality plastics are being used to make them have a long lasting effect. This enhances their temperature resistance and durability even after use. 

Cans, metals, and agricultural and industrial chemicals are also some examples.They are the primary sources of air, water, and soil pollution, as well as diseases like cancer.

Non-biodegradable waste is harmful to the environment. Waste is something which is unavoidable and is rising because of increased domestic and industrial activities. Since in most of the places there is no proper waste management system , the waste ends up creating difficulties for human life and the environment. 

The non-biodegradable waste remains on the planet for hundreds of years. One of the most common examples of non-biodegradable waste is plastic. It lacks the ability to decompose and ends up polluting the land and water. 

What is Hospital waste?

Hospital waste or biomedical waste can be solid or liquid in nature but most of it is non-biodegradable in the environment.

It is extremely infectious in nature and involves discarded blood samples, unwanted microbial cultures, medical sharps, human body parts which are removed because of amputation, animal and human tissues, discarded gloves, bandages which have been used and medical supplies which have come in contact with any kind of bodily fluids.

Hospitals and laboratories are responsible for generating huge amounts of Hospital waste. Dealing with this type of waste is a difficult process as it involves multiple ways to be disposed of. If any of these ways is used wrongly it can lead to a plethora of consequences.

What are different types of hospital waste?

A Hospital waste is of different types depending on its origin and the range of materials that have been used along the way. They are of following types:

  • Infectious waste: any waste containing some kind of pathogen, mainly bacteria is an infectious waste. They can be found in tissues and dressings done during autopsies, treatments and surgeries.
  • Pathological waste: such type of waste includes organs, body parts, blood and bodily fluids.
  • Sharps: contains syringes, needles, infusing sets, blades and broken glasses.
  • Pharmaceutical waste: include unused and contaminated pharmaceutical products, vaccines and sera.
  • Chemical waste: includes reagents and solvents that have been used by the laboratories. It includes sterilants, disinfectants, heavy metal containing medical devices for example mercury filled thermometers etc.
  • Cytotoxic waste: this  type of waste involves substances and chemicals which are teratogenic, mutagenic and carcinogenic in nature. A common example of this type of waste would be the cytotoxins used for the treatment of cancer.
  • Radioactive waste: this includes waste which has been contaminated by radionuclides such as materials used in diagnosis or radiotherapy.

What are different health risks associated with hospital waste?

Hospital waste has several health risks associated with it as it is a type of hazardous waste. Most of the hospital waste contains microorganisms which are responsible for causing various diseases in humans and animals.

If someone comes in close contact with this type of waste they can get infected easily. Drug resistant microorganisms are also a part of hospital waste and can spread to humans via different laboratories if the waste is not disposed of properly.

Health concerns associated with hospital waste are:

  • Injuries associated with sharps.
  • Exposure to toxins from different pharmaceutical products especially cytotoxic drugs.
  • Chemical burns that are caused from different sterilizing, disinfecting agents.
  • Hospital waste releases harmful toxins in the air during the process of incarnation.
  • Radiation burns.

What are environmental risks associated with hospital waste?

There are several environmental risks associated with hospital waste. These are:

  • Contamination of surface, drinking water and groundwater because of improper disposal of untreated hospital waste into different landfill sites.
  • The release of harmful chemicals into the environment when hospital waste is treated with different chemicals to disinfect them.
  • Hospital waste is normally disposed of by the process of incineration. If the process of incineration is not carried out adequately it may release pollutants in the air and in the ash residue.
  • Incinerated materials that have been treated with chlorine can release dioxins which are carcinogenic and are responsible for causing several health implications.
  • The discharge of hospital waste into ocean and other waterways lead to the poisoning of water which impacts aquatic life drastically.
  • Hospital waste releases toxins which become a part of the food chain and eventually reach humans in one way or another.
  • Most hospital waste is made up of plastic. Plastic is non-biodegradable and the hospital waste can remain on earth for several hundred years.

How is hospital waste disposed of?

Hospital waste is disposed of in a variety of ways. Each type of hospital waste has a different procedure for proper disposal. These are as follow:

Hospital waste should be first separated and stored in various containers. Sharps are the most common type of hospital waste and are disposed of in separate containers which are commonly found in pharmacies, hospitals, physician offices, residential homes and nursing homes.

Red bag disposal method is used for biohazard hospital waste. hospital waste using red bag disposal method are:

  • Pathological waste
  • Cytotoxic waste
  • Surgical tools and equipments
  • Discarded vaccines
  • Bandages, guaze, gowns and gloves.

Yellow waste disposal containers are used for hospital waste which are RCRA empty. For a hospital waste to be RCRA empty it needs to include empty IV bags and tubing, empty needles and syringes, used packaging and wipes, empty vials and ampoules.

Black container disposal method is used for hospital waste that is used for chemotherapy purposes. It is also known as bulk waste and includes half or partial medication doses, pathological chemical waste, P-listed substances and containers, PPE and cleaning materials.

Blue container disposal method is used for hospital waste that is used for pharmaceutical waste. This type of waste includes bulk powder, nicotine and several other chemicals.

Hospital waste is initially separated into above mentioned categories and are transported to different treatment facilities. Hospital waste is then treated accordingly to different methods such as autoclaving, incineration, irradiation and chemical disinfection.

It is necessary for the treatment facilities to provide a certificate of destruction which lists the type of medical waste, date and location.

Frequently asked question, “is hospital waste biodegradable”?

What are the major sources of hospital waste?

A hospital waste has many sources of origin:

  • Research centers and laboratories.
  • Health facilities and hospitals.
  • Autopsy and mortuary centers.
  • Testing laboratories and animal research centers.
  • Collection services and blood banks
  • Nursing homes for disabled and elderly.

What is hazardous waste?

A waste is categorized as hazardous if it has the potential to impact the health of living organisms and environment negatively either now or in future. It can be found in different physical states such as:

  • Solids
  • Liquids
  • Gasses

It is labeled as a special type of waste because it cannot be disposed of the way other waste material is disposed of. Depending on the type of hazardous waste the method of its disposal can vary.

Hazardous waste is composed of toxic substances which are generated from industries, agriculture, hospitals and household waste. The hazardous waste can be corrosive, flammable, poisonous, explosive and reactive.

What is the difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable?

The difference between biodegradable and non-biodegradable is that the biodegradable process is rapid, involves microbes and microorganisms, and is used to produce energy and compost. 

The biodegradable substances are not accumulated in the environment and become a part of biochemical and biogeochemical processes happening in the ecosystem.

On the other hand, the non-biodegradable process is extremely slow and does not involve microbes and microorganisms. The waste is often accumulated in the environment and is toxic for the biochemical and biogeochemical processes. Non-biodegradable waste can be separated but the process itself is extremely time consuming and expensive. 

Can hospital waste be made biodegradable?

Yes, hospital waste can be made biodegradable. It is a difficult task so for now most of the hospitals are focusing on making biodegradable packaging for different hospital products. This biodegradable hospital waste can be then sent to different facilities dealing with biodegradable waste.

Most of the biodegradable hospital waste is subjected to anaerobic digestion. In this type of process the biodegradable hospital waste is decomposed with the help of anaerobic microorganisms in the absence of oxygen. The end product is the formation of biogas.

How can hospital waste be managed?

There are several strategies and processes for the proper management of hospital waste. Most of the hospital waste is disposed of off-site. It means that the hospital waste is generated in one place and is disposed in a completely different place specially designated for the disposal of hospital waste. They are then treated depending on the type of hospital waste.

On-site waste management of hospital waste is quite expensive and that is why most of the hospitals do not do it.  Hospital waste should be collected in leak proof containers that are strong and can withstand handling. These containers should be labeled with a biohazard label. Storage of hospital waste should be for some time not for a prolonged period of time.

Hospital waste should be subjected to treatment immediately to eliminate the hazardous nature of hospital waste.

How much hospital waste is normally generated by hospitals?

According to research, developed countries produce almost 0.5kgof hazardous waste per hospital per bed every day.

References:

  • Simplifying hospital waste with biodegradable disposables. Bio based press. Retrieved from: 
https://www.biobasedpress.eu/2018/04/simplifying-hospital-waste-with-biodegradable-disposables/
  • Lichtveld, M. Y.; Rodenbeck, S. E.; Lybarger, J. A. (1992). “The findings of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Medical Waste Tracking Act report”. Environmental Health Perspectives. 98: 243–250. doi:10.1289/ehp.9298243
  • Janson, A. (2019, October 18). How to Properly Dispose Medical Waste: The Go-To Guide. Medical Waste Pros. Retrieved from:
https://www.medicalwastepros.com/2019/10/how-to-properly-dispose-medical-waste/

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