The Medical Waste Issue

There is very little that hospitals and other clinical establishments can do to avoid producing waste it is an inevitable byproduct of healthcare. However, waste produced by healthcare a particularly sensitive problem to both human health and safety and the environment, including natural wildlife. Measures are taken to reduce the impacts that hospital waste has on the environment; but given the nature of healthcare activities, a proportion of healthcare waste is potentially hazardous and should be disposed of with caution.

Reducing medical waste is an important topic of the medical world globally. Adopting new technologies to reduce our impact is paramount, one example is switching to non-contact thermometers such as TRITEMP™ to cut down the amount of hazardous healthcare waste produced.

Types of Healthcare Waste

Sustainability - Image of Double Decker bus showing amount of plastic caps

Clinical Waste

Clinical waste (sometimes referred to as ‘healthcare waste’) is that which poses a risk of infection or contamination. Coming into direct contact with such waste is a extremely hazardous to health. Clinical waste includes items that have been contaminated with body fluids such as needles and sharps, bandages, thermometer probes and PPE.

Cytotoxic Waste

A specific type of waste steam that consists of cytotoxic drugs, and any materials contaminated with it. Cytotoxic medicines are used for treating cancers and other diseases
Offensive Waste- Waste that is non-clinical, non-infectious and doesn’t contain any chemical substances or pharmaceuticals is classed as offensive waste. While it is not hazardous, it can be extremely unpleasant!.

General Waste

General waste that is not hazardous and potential for harm is low.
Anatomical Waste- body parts and placenta, it is not hazardous but must be treated correctly due to its sensitive nature if it was to be unexpectedly discovered.

Minimising Medical Waste

Of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste. The remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive. The NHS creates 133,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually with only 5% of it being recyclable [2].

The treatment of healthcare wastes with chemical disinfectants can result in the release of chemical substances into the environment if those substances are not handled, stored and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner[1].

The World Health Organization’s first option when referring to the way forward is “promoting practices that reduce the volume of wastes generated and ensure proper waste segregation”. TRITEMP™ non-contact thermometer requires zero single-use plastics, in comparison with traditional temperature measuring methods which generate substantial wastage. An average sized 900 bed hospital typically will take patient temperatures approximately 3 million times each year; that’s 3 million plastic caps that must be disposed of as potentially hazardous clinical waste.

Let’s go zero – we all have a responsibility to contribute to the reduction of plastic waste.

[1] https://www.rcn.org.uk/-/media/royal-college-of-nursin

[2] https://www.england.nhs.uk/greenernhs/

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