Environmental Impact of Medical Waste - Part 1: High Carbon Footprint

06/17/19 06:02 AM

This post is a part of our series The Environmental Impact of Medical Waste.

There is a growing trend among consumers, employees, and even investors in making decisions that reduce their carbon footprint. This trend is evident in how customers shop and businesses promote themselves, as well as through developing government regulations. In response, businesses are looking to reduce their impact on the environment. The medical industry is no different.

How does medical waste affect the environment?

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Overall, the medical industry has a significant impact on the environment. Reports place the US healthcare system as contributing 9%-10% of all national greenhouse gas emissions.

Medical waste disposal involves the storage of medical waste in specific containers, having those containers collected, transporting the waste to a treatment facility, incinerating the waste, and then having the treated waste transported to a landfill. This represents a significant environmental footprint in carbon emissions and in water and land resources.

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Medical waste disposal creates significant environmental impacts:

Carbon footprint

When third-party haulers pick up waste and transport it to a treatment facility and then to a landfill, a lot of fossil fuels are burned. Often times treatment facilities are hundreds of miles away from the site of pick up, which expands on this issue.

Land footprint

The residual material left after treatment is carried off to landfills. The majority of treatment processes in use today do nothing to minimize the sheer mass of what is taken to landfills.

So what can be done?

A really good way to reduce a business’ environmental footprint is to reduce the volume of waste that is hauled to treatment facilities and then to landfills is through solid training and accountability measures of medical teams and staff.

Download Medical Waste's Impact on the Environment eBook.

Proper waste segregation is a huge problem in hospitals and clinics and, besides using resources and emitting GHG emissions in the carting of medical waste, it also costs more money for the hospitals and clinics as third party haulers charge by weight or by number of containers being hauled.

In terms of recycling to reduce business environmental footprints, there have been several experiments turning medical waste into concrete for the building industry. Australia successfully turned dialysis plastic scrap into concrete and a Houston, TX company had similar success turning sharps into concrete.

A high priority should be for businesses to reduce their harm to the environment - as in severely cutting back on the waste even generated in the first place.

Sustainable purchasing is one way. As noted in a carbon footprint study at a large US hospital:

Unlike GHG reduction strategies dependent on changes in staff
behavior (waste segregation, recycling, etc), purchasing strategies
can enable immediate, sustainable, and institution-wide
GHG reductions to be achieved.”

A revolutionary way to reduce medical waste’s carbon, water, and land footprint is to utilize on-premise treatment options. Treating waste onsite allows medical facilities to bypass the need for a third party to come pick up waste for treatment.

There already exists safe and easy options for medical staff to treat the waste they generate and then dispose of it through their regular, municipal trash.

Onsite treatment reduces medical waste’s:

Carbon footprint

Reduces the requirement for trucks on the roads in carrying medical waste to treatment facilities.

Land footprint

If an on premise thermal process is used, there is a reduction in the mass of the treated waste itself, thereby reducing what is delivered to landfills.

Onsite treatment usually costs less than traditional third-party haulers, but more importantly, it enables clinics to leave a much smaller environmental footprint. This is something the clinic, staff, and even patients can be proud of.

Traditionally on-premise processing involved purchasing large and expensive equipment, but with the introduction of OnSite's new technology, that is changing.

All medical centers using an onsite option should be sure to market this fact on their website and in their offices. Going Green is an achievement that can easily be made with medical waste.

For more information on how to minimize impact in your practice, please download our eBook below. 

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