Due to the nature of their work, hospitals produce a variety of waste substances, including biological wastes, needles, and discarded drugs. Because these substances can be hazardous if not disposed of properly, hospitals must create a stringent waste management program to ensure the safe and efficient disposal of dangerous wastes.
The World Health Organization (WHO) categorizes waste substances produced by hospitals according to their density and constitution. Wastes are divided into the following groups: infectious, sharps, pathological, pharmaceuticals, radioactive, and others. Infectious waste substances are those containing pathogens that have the potential to spread infectious diseases to the hospital patients and staff as well as to the general public if they are left unattended. Surgical waste is an example of infectious waste. Needles, syringes, and other operation theater substances that could cause cuts and eventually, infection, are called sharps. Pathological wastes are body parts, tissues, organs, fetuses, body fluids, and other types of human waste. Pharmaceutical wastes are substances such as medicines and chemicals. Radioactive wastes are substances that contain radioactive materials, such as X-rays, radiotherapy, and so on. Finally, apart from these substances, other types of miscellaneous waste are sometimes present, including items such as bedding and laundry/kitchen wastes.
Biological wastes are substances that are contaminated by biohazardous material. Examples include syringes, needles, surgical swabs, cultural tubes, absorbent pads, and blood vials. Their potential to cause infections is greater, because they could potentially cause diseases such as AIDS.
Biological wastes in hospitals are classified as Category 1 and Category 2. The first category includes those substances that are harmful if released into the environment. The second contains non-infectious substances such as body parts and animal tissue.
Importance of Waste Management Objectives
Hospitals produce a vast amount of potentially dangerous wastes. Because there are so many people working in hospitals, serving all different types of functions, everyone from the doctor to the janitor needs to know the proper protocols for disposing of dangerous wastes. Otherwise, the wastes could pose problems for the hospital staff and/or public by making them vulnerable to infectious diseases such as AIDS, typhoid, boils, and Hepatitis A or B. For example, dioxin, a product of burnt plastics, can also cause cancer, birth defects, and related problems. Therefore, plastics must be disposed of differently then other waste products.
Objectives for managing waste in hospitals deal with the problem of waste disposal at several levels. The objectives are based on the premise that not all wastes should be treated equally. A practical and useful waste management systems is one that takes all of the related factors, such as differences in wastes and dangers of waste, into consideration. In most hospitals, the overall goals or objectives include: 1) reducing risks and liabilities; 2) controlling costs; 3) planning for the future; and 4) coordinating with the respective government department or institution for better waste management practices.
Implementing waste management strategies in hospitals is grounded in a process chain that includes many steps, including generation, segregation (removing hazardous wastes for treatment), collection, storage, processing transport, treatment, and disposal. Many hospitals also focus on educating management and staff, emphasizing concepts such as reuse, recycling, and segregation.