Waste treatment and disposal

There are many options for the treatment and disposal of medical waste. Some work best in large facilities appropriate to major hospitals or centralized facilities, and others are best for low to middle income countries, small facilities and resource constrained settings. The first step in any waste management is to minimise waste and to ensure that it is properly segregated at source. If general waste is mixed with any infectious or hazardous waste cannot be segregated and all of it then must be treated as though it is infectious or hazardous

  • Infectious waste: this is the waste stream that attracts the most attention and for which there are the most treatment options.
  • Sharps waste: The potential for syringe needles and other sharps waste to spread HIV and hepatitis raise real concern.  In some countries, rag pickers search them out and they are illegally repackaged for sale.
  • Pharmaceutical waste: Hospitals should aim to negotiate take-back agreements with their suppliers for unused and/or expired pharmaceuticals.  Failing this there are a number of ways to neutralize or contain pharmaceutical wastes
  • Radioactive waste: Not all facilities produce radioactive waste, but it can result from treatment (eg radioactive tracers) or be present in diagnostic and analytical equipment.  
  • Pathological and anatomical waste:  Human tissues, blood, placenta- this waste can be hard to handle and sensitive, particularly for anything recognizably human.  However, a number of different options are available for different situations.   
  • Biodegradable wastes: As much as 25 percent of the waste from a healthcare facility can be kitchen and food scraps.   These can be composted or biodigested to produce compost and biogas, a renewable fuel. 
  • Recyclable waste: Paper, plastic, metal and glass are the most widely recycled materials.  Segregating, reusing, and recycling these wastes can make a significant difference to the economics of the facility waste disposal operation. 

Key resources