No one likes visits to the doctor’s office that include needles, but over 15 million injections occur every year around the world, to treat illnesses or prevent them from happening. However, no one really considers what happens to all the hazardous pharmaceutical waste that is a result of these shots. Needles or other sharp objects (called sharps), as well as trace chemo waste, infectious waste, etc., are often not disposed of properly, which can lead to contamination and infection of the public. This is also not just an occurrence that only happens in poorer countries; wealthier, first-world countries are guilty of it as well.
How Much Waste Is There?
Generally speaking, about two million tons of medical waste is created annually — so about 5,500 tons made every day. About a fifth (400,000 tons) is bio-hazardous waste and must be treated with extra caution. If it’s not handled properly, a large number of people risk getting sick and passing it on to others — health care workers, patients, and those who take care of waste disposal are all at risk, as well as any members of the general public they come into contact with.
Wastes that are bio-hazardous usually are in one of there categories: infectious, hazardous, or radioactive. Generally speaking, infectious wastes are the primary category, as well as any waste that has touched blood, feces, or other bodily fluids that can carry infection.
Hospitals, doctor’s offices, research facilities, dental firms, pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, and even vet offices all contribute to medical waste.
What Happens If Waste Is Not Disposed Of Properly?
First and foremost, people are going to get sick and possibly die if waste is disposed of improperly. The World Health Organization released a report in 2000, that stated that over 20 million hepatitis B infections were caused because of patients being injected with contaminated needles. A further 2 million hepatitis C infections and over 250,000 incidents of HIV infection were also the result of this. These scenarios could be easily avoided if the original syringes had been disposed of in the correct manner.
Sharps waste is about 1% of the total medical waste produced, but can be a huge factor in transmitting disease.
How Can We Make Sure Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste Is Disposed Of Safely?
It’s incredibly important to make sure that hospitals and other medical facilities are following medical waste removal guidelines. There should be rules that require an official to come in and inspect the way the facility runs their medical waste disposal annually, to make sure no shortcuts are being taken.
Most facilities will hire a medical waste disposal company to take care of their medical waste — from hazardous pharmaceutical waste to regular waste — instead of doing it themselves. Generally, these companies take care of it using incineration (about 90% of all medical waste gets burned).
Having hazardous medical waste disposed of properly should be incredibly important to everyone. It can have major ramifications for the general public and could present a huge health crisis.