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Responsible waste management


Foreword

Hospital waste can cause contamination and diseases if its management is inadequate, especially infectious and sharp waste, being a risk for those who come into contact with it, as well as diseases due to occupational exposure among health personnel. To a lesser extent, chemical, pharmaceutical, and radioactive waste is also generated, as well as large quantities of common waste whose toxic particles are released into the environment around us.

Current problem

In developing countries, all waste is mixed and burned in low-tech incinerators with a high degree of pollution, or it is processed in the open air and without control, generating dioxins, mercury, and other pollutants into the atmosphere. In these countries, the lack of funds is also the greatest difficulty in ensuring optimal management of hospital waste. For this, an adequate budget must be allocated, and measures provided for its management. A highly complex hospital can generate approximately 730 kg of waste per day, a quarter of which corresponds to infectious waste. The latter can be reduced by complying with current regulations for classification and waste management, but in practice, only 50% of them are met.

Consequences

If hospital waste is not incinerated, it can end up discarded with common waste, and where this occurs, there is a daily risk of contamination among those who handle it in landfills and containers, so strict measures must be taken to improve its management, especially in countries where, due to lack of investment in the area, these behaviors are common.

Solutions

Minimize and segregate waste to reduce the entry of toxic substances, which constitutes correct management of the usual remaining hospital waste. Include internal management of classification, selection, identification, collection, transportation, and packaging for common, anatomical, sharps, non-anatomical, and chemical waste, establishing pre-established modes, routes, and schedules in each case. Design profitable alternative technologies that are safer and cleaner than incineration and are equally effective for their transformation. Permanent training of the personnel in charge of carrying out this institutional task since implementing sustainable practices in green hospitals becomes vital.

What's coming

Measures and procedures for hospital waste management will reduce hazardous waste, costs, environmental, and health risks. The guidelines, regulations, and obligations in this matter will be planned, which will allow us to invest in prevention and buy in a sustainable way, minimizing waste at the source before using medicines, equipment, and packaging. Environmental and human surveillance is added to permanent education in appropriate technologies with a financial cost that must be previously evaluated and managed.

Conclusion

The comprehensive and adequate management of common and bio-infectious solid waste constitutes a priority in hospital management policies, which positively impacts the public health and social well-being of rural and urban institutions. Develop actions, methods, and procedures by the administrative, directive, and managerial staff of the institution that generates hospital waste to collect it internally and externally, complying with current regulations as well as its treatment and deactivation. A document issued by the generators must be designed that constitutes an organized and coherent plan of the activities necessary to guarantee the comprehensive management of hospital waste. Education and continuous training are two key elements to classify and process waste, this always results in cost reduction.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the authors

Marcelo Fabian Saitta is a university specialist in pediatrics belonging to a team of doctors interested in the environment and its place in health.

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Laura Silvia Adduci is a university specialist in neurosurgery belonging to a team of doctors interested in the environment and its place in health.

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María Verónica Viñas Chacior is a university specialist in general surgery belonging to a team of doctors interested in the environment and its place in health.

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Dr. Diego Balverde is an Economist at the European Central Bank and has extensive experience in climate finance. He is currently also an Advisory Member of the Council of Foreign Trade at The World Bank. Diego is very active on the international sustainability stage having attended COP27 as a Circular economy for Climate Change specialist and will also be attending the G20 Conference in India as part of the Energy, Sustainability and Climate Task Force. Diego holds a PhD in Foreign trade from Chapman University and an MBA degree from Cambridge Judge Business School.

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