Bio-Medical Waste Management- Why should we be concerned

The generation of bio-medical waste is an unavoidable consequence of modern-day health care. Medical care is vital for our life and health but improper management of the by-products can pose a serious threat to the community and environment we live in. “Bio-medical waste” can be defined as any solid or liquid waste, including any intermediate products or containers, which is generated during the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of a human being or animal. Medical waste can be toxic and infectious if it is not segregated at the source and treated, disposed of, or recycled in the correct manner subsequently. Bio-medical waste may be produced by hospitals, nursing homes, laboratories, biotechnology units, blood banks, mortuaries, medical research centers, as well as pharmaceutical industries. It may even be generated on a smaller scale by hotels, restaurants, and households. If any of these potential waste producers fail to implement adequate waste management techniques, this negligent conduct could have far-reaching hazardous effects on our environment and health. Some of the major risks associated with the improper disposal of the various types of medical waste are:
  • Indiscriminate disposal of bio-medical waste like contaminated cotton swabs, plasters, dressings, blood bags, sanitary pads, and human or animal tissue scattered in the vicinity of the medical establishment not only directly pollutes the environment but also invites the proliferation of disease-spreading vectors like rodents, insects and stray animals. This may lead to the spread of communicable diseases like typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, plague, and rabies.
  • Sharp objects, such as used needles and glass vials are commonly discarded by health care establishments. Careless disposal of these medical sharps may increase the risk of exposure to blood-borne diseases like HIV and HBV viruses. Rag-picking and scavenging through waste bins is a common practice in India. The individuals who participate in these activities are most vulnerable to the risk of exposure to infected needles and blades.
  • Chemical and plastic wastes are equally a potential bio-hazard if not managed appropriately and consciously. Disposed medicine, cytotoxic drugs, insecticides, mercury from broken or disused medical instruments, residuary disinfectants, and biochemical by-products are extremely toxic to health and pollute the air, water, and soil if not identified and segregated from general waste at the source before being transported for treatment.
  • A substantial quantity of waste produced by medical or pharmaceutical establishments is disposable plastics and polymers. Disposables are often repackaged and resold without proper disinfection to unsuspecting buyers.
In developing countries like India, it becomes a great concern to establish regulations so that the malpractices associated with improper bio-medical waste management are resolved to ensure a safer and healthier environment. It is imperative for waste-management to start at the point of production of the waste. Rules formulated by the Indian government according to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) direct all institutions and establishments that generate bio-medical waste to segregate waste at the source and recycle plastic medical waste. The below infographic illustrates how a health practitioner, medical worker, care-giver or waste handler can effectively use bio-medical waste collection bags to segregate waste at the point of source and start a safe chain of waste disposal is also strongly advised that the personnel involved with the collection, segregation and transportation of bio-medical waste be adequately equipped with precautionary tools like cleaning kitsgloves, masks, disinfectants, and sanitizers, etc. so as to avoid the spread of infection and bacteria. Laws by the Indian government mandate every ‘occupier’ or person-in-charge of a premise that generates bio-medical waste to take all necessary steps to ensure that waste is managed and transferred to the facility responsible for its treatment after collection without adverse effects to the environment or human health. Once the waste is transported to a specialized facility, it may then be treated by incineration, plasma pyrolysis, autoclaving, microwaving, shredding, or deep burial, depending on the category of waste it falls under.