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What is Medical Waste Management?

Medical waste must be disposed of so it doesn't hurt anyone.
A discarded scalpel is considered medical waste.
Sharp medical waste, including used needles, are disposed of in special puncture-proof containers.
Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Medical waste management is a branch of the waste management field which focuses on medical and clinical waste, waste generated in medical facilities like hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. There are a number of issues unique to medical waste which must be addressed by the waste management agencies which handle it, and several governments have laws specifically pertaining to medical waste which are designed to ensure that it is properly regulated. These laws are designed to increase environmental and human safety while ensuring that waste can be disposed of affordably and in a timely fashion.

Responsible medical waste management includes the generation, handling, storage, removal, transport, and destruction or safe disposal of medical waste. Facilities which generate medical waste have protocols in place which dictate how it is handled, and they also maintain contracts with organizations which have been certified to handle such waste. As a general rule, anything potentially biohazardous or related to medical treatment is considered medical waste, from discarded surgical scalpels to carpeting removed from a home in which someone died.

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The obvious problem with medical waste is that it can be infectious, contributing to the spread of disease. It can also simply be dangerous, as in the case of sharps such as needles and scalpels which could hurt people. Medical waste may also be radioactive, and it can include potentially hazardous substances like expired or incorrectly compounded pharmaceuticals. This makes this type of waste different than ordinary waste, requiring a special medical waste management company to make sure that it is handled properly.

Medical waste can also involve confidentiality issues. For example, identifying information is often written on containers which hold biopsy samples, and this information is private. Pollution is also a major concern, as pharmaceuticals have been found in many waterways, and medical waste has also washed ashore on beaches all over the world. Medical waste management can also become very expensive, which can create the temptation to discard materials illegally to avoid paying for it, which can generate a host of problems.

In some cases, a medical facility can opt to incinerate its own waste. Incineration is not always an option, however, and some facilities lack to the infrastructure to support an incinerator. In these cases, a company must provide containers to hold medical waste, along with transport of the waste and safe disposal, which can include irradiation to render it neutral, along with burial, incineration, and other options. Some nations have medical waste tracking laws in place, which require people to log medical waste at every step of the way to ensure that it is handled properly, and medical waste management companies will also be held liable if they fail to handle waste appropriately.

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