Environmental Impact of Medical Waste Part I: High Carbon Footprint

With an increasing amount of scientific research supporting the effects of our carbon footprint on climate change, it’s no surprise that consumers and companies alike are making a bigger effort to help reduce carbon emissions.  From how people are spending their money to the way in which businesses promote themselves, the conscious changes are evident. New government regulations are also a reflection of this effort to “go green”. The medical industry is no exception.   

How Does Medical Waste Affect the Environment?

According to research by the American Public Health Association, the US healthcare system contributes 9-10% of all national greenhouse gas emissions. Medical waste disposal involves storage in specific containers. These special containers must be collected, which includes transporting it to a treatment facility, incinerating it, and then having the treated waste transported to a landfill. These extra steps represent a significant addition to the environmental footprint in carbon emissions, water, and land resources than we already have as humans.

Carbon: The combination of transporting waste first to a treatment facility, then to a landfill results in a large amount of fossil fuels burned when we consider the collection that is done across the country and around the world from hospitals and other medical centers. Often times, treatment facilities are hundreds of miles away from the site of pick-up. Multiplying this by the amount of times that the waste needs to get picked up over a week, month, or year adds up to a significant amount of carbon emissions.

Land: The residual material left after treatment ends up in landfills. In most cases across the country, nothing is being done to minimize the mass amount of material that is being dumped in the landfills.

There IS a way to decrease the volume of waste that is taken to landfills. For example, there have been several experiments turning medical waste into concrete for the construction industry. Australia successfully turned dialysis plastic scrap into concrete, and a company in Houston, Texas had similar success turning sharps into concrete.

Another way is to reduce the volume of waste entering the landfills is cutting back on the waste generated in the first place.

One of the most revolutionary ways to reduce medical waste’s carbon, water, and land footprint is to utilize on-premise treatment options. Treating waste onsite allows facilities to bypass the need for a third party to come pick up waste for treatment, therefore eliminating the fossil fuel and landfill space typically used.

This option is not only safe, but also easy for medical staff to treat the waste they generate and then dispose of it through the regular, municipal trash system. Onsite treatment reduces both medical waste carbon footprint and land footprint.

The carbon footprints are reduced when the need for trucks to transport waste is dissolved.  The land footprints are reduced because the on-premise thermal process allows for a reduction in the mass of the waste itself; therefore, the amount delivered to landfills is minimal, which saves land in the long run.

In addition to contributing to the conscious efforts to reduce environmental harm in the industry, on-premise processing is actually less costly than traditional third-party haulers. But it hasn’t always been this way. On-site processing used to involve purchasing large and expensive equipment, but with OnSite’s new technology, the game has changed!