Biomedical wastes like sharps, bandages, chemicals, needles, surgery waste, etc. are affecting our environment very adversely. Find all the related issues, types and its management.

Let the Waste of “Sick” not contaminate the lives of “The Healthy” K. Park

We have heard about many types of waste. You may know household, hazardous, E-waste, construction wastes. How about biomedical waste? Most people are unaware about it. The specific types of wastes and the risks involved.

As we know all types of waste are dangerous and need safe disposal. Biomedical waste is another waste type causing harmful effects. These are spreading into the environment and all its organisms.

I am sure you would love to know more about this topic. So I present to you a blog series on biomedical waste. I felt it wouldn’t be fair to leave out any important point and decided to cover in detail. For this we will be covering this topic in 3 blogs.

In the first blog we will understand what biomedical waste is, how it’s generated and the basis of classification. In my second blog I will cover management of Biomedical waste. Third, we will look at medical waste management problems and the way forward. I encourage you to check out the complete series. This will provide you with complete knowledge on the topic. I will be publishing the other two blogs in the future. So, stay tuned!

In this blog I will be covering following topics – 

  1. What Biomedical waste means.
  2. Who Biomedical Waste Generators Are.
  3. Biomedical waste V/s Hospital waste.
  4. Threats of Biomedical wastes.
  5. Types of Biomedical wastes

What Do You Mean by Biomedical Waste?

Biomedical wastes come from biological and medical activities.  Health care and research centers, hospitals and labs are major producers. They produce medical waste in following actions – 

  1. Diagnosis
  2. Treatment
  3. Immunization

It is infectious, highly toxic and lethal. Hospitals and other medical related facilities produce large amounts of wastes. This spreads infections like HIV, Hepatitis B & C, Tetanus, other airborne and blood infections. Affected populations are rag pickers, waste handlers, transportation workers, doctors, etc. Basically everyone involved with the waste.

Who are Biomedical Waste Generators?

Wondering who exactly waste generators are? The answer is simple!

Waste generator is any person or facility that generates waste. As per govt rules there are many duties of waste generators. Let me list out few of them:

  1. Waste segregation.
  2. No burning or throwing solid waste on streets or near water bodies.
  3. Paying user fee, etc. 
  4. Proper labeling and storage.

India generates approximately 3 million tonnes of medical waste per year. This amount is expected to grow by eight percent annually. According to the NCBI, 85% of waste generated is non- hazardous. 10% of waste is infectious and the remaining 5% is non infectious but considered as hazardous. 

In the USA about 15% of the wastes are infectious wastes. While in India, as per Pubmed this may range from 30% to 35% depending upon the production of waste. These stats are a clear sign of the bulk amount in which this waste is generated. This is highly infectious and can lead to major environmental and health issues. 

Generators are divided into two groups

Primary Generators

  • Hospital
  • Nursing homes
  • Dispensaries
  • Maternity home
  • Dialysis centre
  • Research lab
  • Medical college
  • Immunization centers
  • Blood bank
  • Industries
  • Animal research centres 
  • Veterinary hospitals

Secondary Generators

  • Clinics
  • Ambulance services
  • Home treatment
  • Slaughter house
  • Funeral service
  • Educational institutions

Generation of Waste Per Bed Per Day

The quantity of hospital or clinical waste generated is much higher than you would expect. Most of the waste produced in hospitals is as hazardous as municipal waste. 

Thus we should separate hospital waste into risk and non- risk wastes and dispose of them accordingly. Since the last century we have seen rapid growth in hospitals, to serve an increasing population. This has resulted in a surge in biomedical waste.

According to Vikaspedia, the quantity of waste generated in India is approximately 1-2 kg per bed per day in hospitals. In the case of clinics this number is 600 grams per bed per day. The amount of waste generated per bed per day was 2.0 kg. The average quantity of biomedical waste generated is 17.22% of the total waste

Biomedical waste V/s Hospital waste

You may assume hospital wastes are limited to biomedical wastes. But that’s not true. Hospital wastes include organic and non-organic components.  In fact, biomedical wastes are a part of hospital waste.

There are four types of hospital wastes :-

Universal waste 

This type of waste is the same as the waste of business or households.  I will list out some examples to help you understand better:

  1. Electric bulbs and  fluorescent tubes.
  2. Electric lamps, broken thermometer containing mercury, batteries.
  3. High intensity discharge lamps and other equipment containing metals.   

Common refuse  

It is also referred to as residual waste. These types of waste cannot be recycled. It includes non-recyclable plastic containers, polythene, wrappers, diapers, sanitary pads etc. 

Recyclable waste 

All the recyclable and reusable wastes come under this category, like paper bags, bed sheets, curtains,  etc.

Biomedical waste 

It’s a broad category that has infectious and hazardous property. There are many types of wastes that come under this category. Some categories are sharps, infectious waste, pathological waste, pharmaceutical waste, etc.

Threats of Biomedical Wastes

They have infectious properties. They are hazardous, toxic and even lethal as they contain deadly viruses, bacteria, or infectious agents.   

It has a high potential of disease transmission.

Improperly stored contaminated sharps poses infectious risk to hospital workers, doctors, and patients. People at major points of risk are rag pickers, waste workers and workers in disposal industries .

They may transmit disease or infection due to sharps or glasses. As glass or sharps have contaminated blood or body serums etc..  

Some of the health hazards to workers associated with management of waste are:  

  • High temperature of incinerators.
  • Inhalation of aerosol from shredding or grinding or compacting process. 
  • Possible exposure to the pathogens to workers during different processes.
  • Injection of chemicals through puncture wounds may occur from stepping on sharp objects. 

Let’s discuss some public health risks due to disposal of waste. 

Infectious agents can spread from used syringes or masks of infected persons. Such spreading can lead to widespread contamination. 

Biomedical wastes can contain minute particulates or aerosols. Inhalation of these can lead to major health problems. Asthma, skin infections, eye infections are some to mention. People residing near incinerators are at major risk of such contamination.

Surrounding environment of the dumping area is degraded because of careless disposal of wastes.

Improperly operated incinerators and other equipment have a bad effect on the environment.

Microbes develop antibiotic resistance due to prolonged exposure of antibiotics in surrounding areas.

Types  of Biomedical Waste

We can divide Biomedical wastes into different types. They can  cover a diverse range of materials. According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) issued guidelines, medical wastes have 8 categories:

Infectious waste

Bodily fluids, cultures and stocks from labs and infected people are major contaminators of type. Here are some examples of the same: 

  1. Blood and swabs of infected people 
  2. Disposable medical devices and diagnostic samples
  3. Autopsy wastes, infected animals from laboratories, etc.

Pathological waste 

This category consists of wastes like human or animal tissues, body parts, organs, or bodily fluids. Some examples are semen, vaginal discharge, blood, cerebrospinal fluids etc.

Radioactive waste

Radioactive Treatments and radioactive nuclei containing waste generate this type of waste. For example, cancer therapies and medical equipment that uses nuclear elements.

Chemical waste

Liquid waste containing chemicals like solvents, reagents from laboratory, disinfectant, sterilants and heavy metal bearing medical devices (thermometer), batteries, etc. 

Sharps

These consist of waste like syringes, needles, disposable scalpels,broken glass, razors  and blades, etc.

Cytotoxic waste 

These are hazardous wastes with genotoxic properties. These are highly hazardous substances that are mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic. Cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites are one such example.

Pharmaceutical waste

Unused, expired drugs or contaminated drugs and vaccines like pills, cream,antibiotics, etc.

General or Non- hazardous waste

all the other waste that does not come under above mentioned categories are general wastes. It doesn’t pose any significant harmful biological, chemical, physical or radioactive hazard.

Whereas in India, Ministry of Environment and Forest, has notified Bio-medical Waste (Handling and Management) Rules- in 1998 characterized into 10 category:

Category

Waste content

Components

Method of Disposal and Treatment

Category 1

Human Anatomical Waste

Human body parts, tissue, organs

Incineration /deep burial

Category 2

Animal Waste

Animal tissue, body parts, organs, bleeding parts, fluids, carcasses, blood and experimental animals used in
research, waste generated by veterinary
hospitals colleges, discharge from
hospitals, animal houses

Incineration /deep burial

Category 3

Microbiology and Biotechnology Waste

Wastes from laboratory cultures,
stocks or specimens of microorganisms live or attenuated vaccines,
human and animal cell culture used in
research and infectious agents and
industrial laboratories, wastes from
production of biological, from
research toxins, dishes and devices
used for transfer of cultures

Local autoclaving/ microwaving/ incineration

Category 4

Wastes Sharps

Needles, syringes, scalpels, blades,
glass, etc. that may cause puncture and
cuts. This includes both used and
unused sharps

Disinfectants chemical
treatment
/autoclaving/microwaving
and mutilation shredding

Category 5

Discarded Medicines and Cytotoxic drugs

Wastes comprising of outdated,
contaminated and discarded
medicines 

Incineration / destruction &
drugs disposal in secured
landfills

Category 6

Solid waste

Items contaminated with blood, and
body fluids including cotton,
dressings, soiled plaster casts, lines,
beddings, other material contaminated
with blood 

Incineration / destruction &
drugs disposal in secured
landfills

Category 7

Solid waste

Wastes generated from disposable
items other than the waste sharps such
as tubing’s, catheters, intravenous sets
etc 

Disinfectants chemical
treatment
/autoclaving/microwaving
and mutilation shredding

Category 8

Liquid waste

Waste generated from laboratory and
washing, cleaning, house-keeping and
disinfecting activities

Disinfections by chemical
treatment and discharge
into drains

Category 9

Incineration ash

Ash from incineration of any biomedical waste

Disposal in municipal landfill

Category 10

Chemical waste

Chemicals used in production of
biological, chemicals used in
disinfection, as insecticides, etc

Chemical treatment and discharges into drains

 

 Conclusion

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” -Chief Seattle

Feeling a bit intimidated thinking about how to tackle biomedical waste?

We have studied biomedical wastes and their major threat to us and our environment in this blog. Biomedical waste management has become a major issue due to its potential health risk and damage to our surrounding. If biomedical waste is not handled properly, it’s a potent source of disease causing serious threat to humans. 

So our prime concern should be safe and proper disposal of these wastes. In case there’s anything I missed or anything you want to ask regarding the subject please feel free to mention in the comments. I would love to hear your inputs.

If you want to know more about the most concerning issues, stay updated on our website. Subscribe with us.

andleep zahra
Author

She is a biotechnologist and received her master degree in biotechnology from V.B.S. Purvanchal University. Being a biotechnologist she loves to do research and write articles on the same. She’s best known for writing articles and blogs on environmental issues. Through her writings she likes to provide more information on environmental conservation and provide knowledge on how to address the issue, mainly focused on waste management. She looks for ways to get involved and also attended several conferences, workshops and webinars. “Increasing waste around the globe that is affecting our ecosystem and reducing our biodiversity is the most critical issue we humans often overlook and it will be the greatest challenge our younger generation will ever face,” she says.

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