Believe it or not, medical facilities produce about 2 millions tons of hospital wastes every year. This absurd amount of waste is broken down into four types: general, hazardous, radioactive, and infectious medical wastes. While the vast majority (85%) of these hospital wastes are general and can be tossed away like trash, the other 15% need to be handled with more care, lest the dangerous garbage pose a threat to the public and to the environment.
Although 15% doesn’t sound like too much, that’s still more than half a billion pounds of dangerous waste. If it can’t be tossed out, then how do medical facilities deal with it all?
One of the most common medical waste disposal methods used to treat chemical and surgical wastes is incineration, which is the controlled burning of medical waste in an incinerator. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, incineration is used to treat about 90% of surgical wastes. However, some states, including California, prohibit the incineration of surgical waste.
If the medical waste isn’t incinerated, then chances are that it’s autoclaved. Autoclaves are closed chambers that use both heat and pressure (and sometimes they use steam) to sterilize medical equipment. They destroy microorganisms on surgical waste, like scalpels, so that the tools can be reused, and they eliminate all the microorganisms that might have been present in medical waste before it’s put in a landfill. Essentially, autoclaving allows doctors to reuse tools, and makes garbage safe to go in landfills.
With such a massive amount of waste being generated by the healthcare industry, medical facilities need to have a way to effectively and efficiently treat and dispose of medical waste.
Incineration and autoclaving are the two most popular medical waste disposal practices around. If you have any questions about how chemical and surgical wastes are disposed, feel free to ask in the comments.