The profession of medicine and surgery includes performing surgery, giving treatment to the patient, performing a check-up, etc. These things, among others, produce waste, including cotton, syringes, masks, gloves, medical-surgical tools like scalpels, razors, etc. These things may be contaminated, hazardous, radioactive (depending on the patient’s body), or non-hazardous. This is why hospitals have a medical waste disposal system in place.
Medical wastes, if left untreated, are a threat to the world because these things have thousands of pathogens and bacteria on them, and using them would result in severe complications. Managing medical waste is a laborious task assigned only to trained professionals.
Hospitals and healthcare departments have their regular trash, and on the other hand, they have their medical waste disposal places. Medical wastes should never be left with regular trash as they are contaminated and hazardous sometimes.
Although countries worldwide have the exact definition of medical waste, they differ in types of medical waste. The USA, for example, classifies medical waste in the following four categories;
- General Waste – anything that is not contaminated or hazardous
- Infectious Waste – Anything that might cause an infection, contaminated stuff like blood, human tissues, etc.
- Hazardous Waste – Stuff that is very dangerous to humans and wildlife and poses a severe threat to the world.
- Radioactive Waste – Anything that results from the treatment of a radioactive patient, like a cancer patient.
The health department in the United Kingdom has classified medical waste into nine different categories, while the WHO has categorized medical waste into eight different wastes. They are, more or less, the same. The WHO categorization is as follows;
- Infectious waste – contaminated stuff
- Sharps – anything that can puncture your skin, like needles, razors, etc.
- Pathological waste – insides of humans and animals, like organs, bodily fluids
- Pharmaceutical Wastes – expired medicines, used drugs, etc.
- Radioactive Wastes – any waste from a radioactive body
- Chemical Waste – waste that includes chemicals, like disinfectants
- Genotoxic Waste – any waste that is toxic to the body or environment, like a carcinogenic waste
- General waste – any non-hazardous, non-contaminated, non-radioactive waste
As important as it is to identify different wastes, it is also crucial to manage them. Hospitals have different types of equipment like incinerators, autoclaves, etc., that are available for this purpose. An incinerator, with its high temperature and high pressure, annihilates the waste.
An autoclave uses high-temperature steam to sterilize tools and equipment. Sharps should never be sterilized or disinfected; you should destroy them. Same with bodily fluids and pathological waste, these should be disposed of safely.