One of the most challenging problems facing hospitals today is what to do with all the waste they generate. Unlike other industries where you can simply throw your garbage in a dumpster and forget about it, the medical industry has many additional regulations mandating proper disposal methods. Abiding by these compliance requirements is necessary for keeping hospital staff and patients healthy. Here is a closer look at many of the different types of medical waste common in hospitals and how to properly dispose of them.
What Is Medical Waste?
Part of what makes managing medical waste a challenge is that many people don’t understand what it is. While the specifics may vary, the agreed-upon definition includes any waste products healthcare facilities generate that contain infectious materials. Part of what makes this so challenging is that this waste comes from a wide variety of sources, including hospitals, surgical centers, infirmaries, dental offices, and urgent care centers.
But it isn’t just humans who are generating this debris; animals also contribute to the trash problem. Medical waste often contains bodily fluids such as blood and other excrements. Many everyday practices in medical facilities generate this type of waste, including research, testing, diagnostics, treatment, immunization, and recovery for humans and animals.
Pathological and Anatomical
One type of garbage that medical facilities tend to create is pathological waste. It is particularly common because it involves all tissue samples and liquids from the human body. Usually collected in a laboratory or medical setting for examination, pathological waste is typically much smaller than anatomical waste.
Anatomical waste includes human tissue, organs, and body parts discarded due to surgery, autopsy, or some form of trauma. Much like with pathological, this type of waste requires specific methods for safe disposal. Some exclusions do exist for hair, teeth, and nails, depending upon the state.
Bulk Blood Products and Body Fluids
Some cases may require a facility to dispose of bulk quantities of blood or other bodily fluids. Bulk waste blood, human blood components, and products created from the blood, such as serum and plasma, require special precautions for proper disposal. Even bodily liquids that appear to contain any amount of blood, such as urine, saliva, and amniotic fluid, require the same level of care.
In medical research centers worldwide, scientists use samples of infectious diseases to create new cures and vaccines. But once a sample has reached the end of its usefulness, there are procedures to follow to ensure proper disposal. Cultures and other stocks of infectious materials comprise this category.
In the medical industry, a sharp can be any device or instrument medical staff uses to puncture or cut through the skin. Many different tools qualify as a sharp, including needles, syringes, and insulin pens. What separates this category from many others is that certain items like scalpels and scissors are reusable after proper sanitation.
Why Medical Disposal Is Important
One of the reasons it’s so vital to understand the different types of medical waste common in hospitals is to illustrate the wide range of materials that require special consideration. Without proper management, they can create health hazards for employees, sanitation workers, and the public at large. Improperly discarded needles increase the likelihood of accidental pricks and infections. Pathogens could find their way into waterways and the soil in which food grows. Exposure to these elements is never good, regardless of the location, but it is worse when you are outside the care of medical professionals.
Tips for Reducing Waste
There are many methods for reducing the amount of waste that a medical facility generates. Here is an in-depth look at some tips for decreasing the volume of this waste.
Create a Waste Team
One of the best ways to promote employee involvement is by creating a waste management team. They are responsible for setting, maintaining, and modifying a facility’s waste policy, including designing and implementing a recycling program. Follow these steps to start the process:
- Create Your Team
It takes a dedicated team with a strong leader at the helm to handle the task of properly disposing of medical waste. Representation from various departments and levels within the organizational structure is vital for the waste management program’s success.
- Form a Disposal Plan
The first order of business should be to perform a waste audit; then, they can devise a plan to reduce the amount of waste the facility generates. The plan should include specific steps and actions to promote waste reduction.
- Educate Staff
The next step is to educate the staff, train them on best practices, and ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. The best way to get the entire organization interested and involved is by highlighting the positives and relating how this action will benefit each employee’s daily work.
- Perform Audits
After implementing a new waste management plan, performing regular audits is crucial. Not only will this step ensure employees are following procedures, but audits can also show where the program is performing poorly. These regular check-ins will allow the waste management team the opportunity to make adjustments and continually perfect the program.
Improving sustainability at medical complexes also helps with reducing waste. Everything from reusing specific equipment to replacing the disposable paper plates in the break room can decrease waste. Just because this trash may be similar to the garbage from any other office building does not invalidate the team’s responsibility to reduce unnecessary waste output.
Clearly Marked Receptacles
One of the most important features to promote in any medical setting is waste receptacles that clearly designate their purpose. These help with sorting recyclables from the trash and prevent different types of medical waste from mixing. These trash cans also reduce the chances of an accidental prick from a needle or other sharp object.
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