As humans, we tend to dispose of goods and services once we find little use for them. In the medical industry, the story is a little different. Objects like needles and gloves must be disposed of after use. To protect the safety of all patients, these items are discarded immediately after use to prevent the spread of infections to other patients. Healthcare waste is not only limited to hospitals. Laboratories and research facilities all contain healthcare waste. The disposal of healthcare waste is crucial to prevent the spread of infections to other workers or the community in general. A lack of controlled burning without proper pollution control exposes waste workers and the surrounding community to toxins in the air and remnants of the burned items. Since the rise of the global pandemic, healthcare waste has become one of the main priorities for preventing the spread even further. Listed below are some facts on how we handle healthcare waste and why it’s especially important during a pandemic. 


Classifications of healthcare waste: 

Not all healthcare waste is created the same. There are four general categories for waste:  sharps waste, pathological waste, other infectious wastes, pharmaceutical waste including cytotoxic waste, hazardous chemical waste, radioactive waste, and general (non-risk) waste. A good rule of thumb to remember with healthcare waste is a little over 80% of waste caused by healthcare organizations carries no risk. However, there are still other wastes to be cautious of including sharps waste and other infectious wastes. These wastes contain enough microorganisms to spread diseases in vulnerable hosts. 


The importance of classification: 

Separating the classifications of healthcare waste is critical to preventing the spread of diseases. For infectious waste, a specific treatment is required to remove the waste. That’s why it’s vital to separate the non-hazardous waste from hazardous waste. The process in classifying which materials are hazardous and non-hazardous are labeled containers, colored codes, signs, transportation, storage, and method of disposal. To verify this system is accurate, training, planning, allocating funds, analyzing, monitoring, and documenting are all critical elements to confirm all waste materials are separated properly. 


How healthcare organizations are tackling waste amidst the pandemic: 

Any search of the internet will tell you how much the healthcare industry has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The industry is not only experiencing the effects of this pandemic domestically but internationally as well. Most healthcare organizations across the globe have measures and practices in place to dispose of medical waste. For the organizations that do not, they are taking proactive measures to ensure the spread of covid19 does not come from improper handling of medical waste. Obviously, when a pandemic occurs, the amount of medical waste increases significantly. There are systems in place to handle high volume during pandemic outbreaks. 


The actual process: 

There are four different methods of eliminating medical waste. The four different methods include thermal, chemical, irradiative, and biological. The thermal method involves heating the waste to a specific temperature for it to decompose in a controlled environment. The chemical method involves the same process as thermal but involves higher temperatures to incinerate the waste. The irradiative method involves any form of mechanical damage and destruction of waste, including but not limited to pulverizing, grinding, shredding, and mixing. The biological method involves using an autoclave to break down the microorganisms of the waste to a point where it is safe to dispose of it.