The earth we live in is a blessing for us with a lot of resources. But over the past decades, mankind has taken it for granted and threatened the planet to an extreme level. How and why? Let’s think.
We all generate waste. We use a lot of easy-to-handle products which are also easy-to-get-rid-of. We may feel that we are being responsible by using recyclable materials. But then we discard them. Are these products really getting recycled?
Waste management is a very essential part of our life and it is one of the most responsible industries that contribute to the well-being of our lives. Apart from general waste management, there is an important category within this sector called Biomedical Waste Management. While general waste management aims to control pollution, Biomedical Waste Management aims to protect lives from infectious diseases originating from improper waste disposal.
Why is waste management important?
Waste management in any community is important to get rid of unwanted things generated as a result of consumption by any living or nonliving entity. Poor waste management could lead to poor lifestyle and exposure to infectious agents.
Nature decomposes organic materials on its own but we live in an era of mass consumption which demands a well planned waste management system to lead a better life and to protect our environment. Waste management also helps to promote recycling and reuse of synthetic products which take a lot of time to degrade if disposed into the ecosystem.
Waste management begins at every home and each individual bears the responsibility of protecting the neighbourhood which forms the basic steps for protecting the environment.
What is a biomedical waste?
Waste products generated from any medical facility providing healthcare solutions, dealing with medical products and equipment are generally classified as medical or biomedical waste. The main characteristic of such a waste that differentiates it from other waste materials is the fact that a biomedical waste is generated after contact with living cells such as blood, tissue etc.
Types of biomedical waste
Understanding the types of biomedical waste is an important requirement in efficient waste management. A specific type of waste management technique applied for one type of waste does not necessarily suit another type.
Classification of biomedical waste widely varies in different parts of the world. In general, biomedical waste products can be grouped into infectious, hazardous and radioactive. Other types of waste products generated from a healthcare facility such as general waste unrelated to a biomedical setup are not necessarily included as a biomedical waste.
Any waste that carries a potential to cause harmful infection in human beings is classified as infectious waste. For example a cotton with blood could carry pathogens and it can cause infection if another person comes into contact with it. Discarded living tissues as a result of surgery, discarded body fluids and materials associated with it are a few examples for infectious waste.
Hazardous waste can be termed as dangerous with or without carrying the risk of infections. Examples for hazardous waste include injection with needles, surgical sharps etc. Expired drugs and other chemicals also fall under this category.
Radioactive waste products are mostly generated from devices handling radioactive substances. Waste products generated as a result of chemotherapy are the most common examples for radioactive waste.
How does a hospital treat its waste products?
The basic step of biomedical waste management is segregation. In general, healthcare facilities use colour codes to segregate different types of medical waste products such as discarded sharps, synthetic products contaminated with infection causing agents, used gloves and masks etc. Separate bins with colour codes and guides are used for better segregation.
Segregated waste must be disposed of at least within 24 hours. This timing may vary depending upon the type and size of the health care facility. Until proper disposal, the segregated waste must be kept safe away from the reach of unauthorised hands.
At the time of disposal, the waste to be discarded must be properly labelled and transported. Puncture proof bags and spill proof containers are a few examples for better waste management. At this step, the biomedical waste successfully exits the healthcare facility for further treatment.
How does a biomedical waste get discarded?
As the biomedical waste has exited the medical facility, it then enters into the treatment phase to get completely destroyed. There are several methods to discard biomedical waste.
Incineration is the most common and widely used method of waste disposal. In simple terms, this process burns all the waste products and the resultant gas is released into the atmosphere. Thus, the main disadvantage of incineration is air pollution. This can be overcome by installing pollution control monitors with incineration plants. Wet and Venturi scrubbers, electrostatic precipitators, fabric filters etc are a few examples of pollution controllers.
The autoclave process is best suited for treating infectious waste materials such as used bandages, containers that could carry pathogens etc. In general, hazardous or radioactive waste materials are not autoclaved.
In autoclave technique, the waste material is fed into a system that employs hot steam at high pressure. This process kills pathogens as the steam penetrates the material. After treating infectious waste by autoclave, they are safe to be further treated along with other general waste products.
Inertization can be applied in the disposal of pharmaceutical waste products that can be dangerous if directly exposed to the environment. In certain cases, such waste can come into contact with water or soil and thus penetrate into living cells due to consumption. By the method of inertization, the waste material is mixed with cement, lime and water. This forms a solid mass and then it is released to landfill.
Land disposal of biomedical waste means letting the waste decompose under the soil. Medical waste should never be dumped on open grounds. Land disposal for a biomedical waste must be chosen only if the burial site is safe enough to prevent soil and water pollution.
Microwave irradiation employs high temperature to kill pathogens and frees the waste from microorganisms. Due to high operational costs and radiation risks, this method has not yet gained much popularity.
Chemical sterilisation is a simple method of using certain chemicals to disinfect medical waste products. This method can also be applied to disinfect hospital atmosphere and equipment.
Biomedical Waste Management is a growing industry covering employees from various sectors. As the consumption of healthcare products and services are growing at a larger scale, the Biomedical Waste Management industry has a promising future.