When properly managed, healthcare waste should not cause any adverse impacts on human health or the environment. By sorting and reducing waste, hospitals not only avoid disposal costs and environmental hazards, but reduce the amount of raw materials, energy and processing needed to replace the products they use.
Health facilities can cut waste and greenhouse gas emissions through composting and biodigesting, recycling (including anesthetic gases), better purchasing (minimizing packaging, using reusable rather than disposable products, and buying recycled products), and minimizing waste transport (local treatment and disposal).
The small portion of medical waste that is potentially infectious includes a high proportion of plastics and can be recycled or landfilled after disinfection, rather than incinerated, since burning plastic produces large quantities of greenhouse gases, in addition to toxic pollutants such as dioxins and furans.
A variety of non-burn technologies are available that can safely disinfect, neutralize or contain the wastes for landfill disposal. One of the most important techniques for low to middle income countries is autoclaving. Autoclaves are economical, manufactured in a wide range of options that will suit most situations, and are well understood by healthcare systems, which routinely use them for sterilizing surgical and other medical products.
- Human Rights Report. In 2011, the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur invited HCWH to provide input about the way in which improper medical waste management might harm human rights. The following report, and input from other agencies including WHO, led to a final report recommending more support for medical waste management and the substitution of incineration wherever possible. Stringer, R. et al. (2011)
- Medical Waste and Human Rights Submission to the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur. Publ: HCWH, 68pp.
- Georgescu, C. (2011) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights. Publ: Human Rights Council Eighteenth session Agenda item 3, Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, 21pp.
- WHO Blue Book. The “Blue Book” is the World Health Organization’s guidelines on the safe management of healthcare waste. Although it has global application, it is particularly important in low to middle income countries where the infrastructure and national guidelines might not be fully developed. The current edition, published in 2013, was written by a large group of internationally recognised experts, including HCWH staff.
Prüss-Ustun, A. et al (2013) Safe management of wastes from health-care activities, second edition. Publ: WHO, Geneva, 328pp. 978 92 4 154856 4
- WHO Policy on safe healthcare waste management.
- WHO core principles on safe and sustainable management of healthcare waste.
- Eleven Recommendations for Improving Health Care Waste Management.
- Mainstreaming Environmental Management in the Health Care Sector. This document, produced by the World Bank, is focused on India but has much information that will be useful to waste managers everywhere.
- World Bank (2012) Mainstreaming environmental management in the health care sector: Implementation experience in India and a tool-kit for managers. Vol I & II. Publ: World Bank, Washington DC, 151pp.