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Covid's Impact on the Medical Waste Management Industry

For decades, the medical waste disposal industry has improved, enhanced its protocols, developed technology and methods of better disposal, and become more efficient. Through these improvements, the industry has created better and safer work environments.

In the past two years, however, medical disposal—like all healthcare-related industries—has faced challenges.

Throughout the Covid pandemic, the need to assess and improve our medical disposal was a common topic of conversation among local and state institutions.

How have the past two years impacted the world of medical waste disposal? Let’s take a look.

If you’re in need of reliable medical waste disposal services in El Paso or the Southwest region, Mediwaste can help. Give us a call today — (844) 633-4669

The Challenges of Unprecedented Surges of Medical Waste

In February of 2022, the World Health Organization published a press release detailing some of their concerns relating to the disposal of medical waste. The press release was to draw attention to their comprehensive “Global Analysis of Health Care Waste in the Context of Covid-19 report.”

The document points out concern over medical waste produced by the 140 million test kits, over 8 billion vaccine doses administered worldwide, and other unaccounted for waste (such as from healthcare workers and the public’s disposed face masks). They calculate the vaccines alone have produced over 143 tons of trash like syringes, plastics, safety boxes, and more.

As the world faced the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic and responded adequately by ramping up the production, shipment, and usage of PPE and other precautionary materials, the WHO suggests there might not have been adequate attention paid to maintaining the proper disposal of this waste.

Major Concerns in Medical Waste Sectors

There’s no denying that the medical disposal sector was strained during the height of the pandemic. In addition, the many take-home covid tests, cloth masks, N-95 masks, face shields, and other covid-related items used by the public can also be improperly disposed of.

Risk to healthcare workers and patients

Today’s healthcare industries (Including 60% of facilities in developed countries) are simply not equipped to handle medical waste, let alone cope with the increased amounts of waste added because of covid. This insufficiency poses risks for patients and healthcare workers—putting them in danger of needle stick injuries, burns, or coming in contact with hazardous wastes.

Damage to the Environment

In addition to risks for healthcare workers, organizations have also pointed out how the increase in waste and its possible mismanagement can have consequences for environmental efforts. So part of the conversation includes finding innovative and accessible ways to increase waste management without foregoing concern over sustainability and the environment.

Reports from Around the World and at Home About Disposal Methods

In Hong Kong, for example, there were reports of face masks piling up at nature trails and beaches because of improper disposal in waterways.

Marine life and ocean environments can be greatly affected when it sees biodegradable plastics as food. The covid pandemic has then raised questions about how well municipalities and states are dealing with their waste management including plastics, non-hazardous, pathological, radioactive, infectious waste, chemical waste, sharps waste, and pharmaceutical waste.

Environmental groups are speaking out about what they have observed so far in regards to PPE and other medical waste polluting oceans and land. One environmental group working out of France warned that there soon might be more masks in the ocean than jellyfish. Videos of these groups picking up masks and medical waste from the bottom of the ocean have only furthered the conversation.

According to one report from Wuhan, China, the origin place of the virus, the city produced close to 247 tons of medical waste per day. This forced the city to build a new waste plant and create mobile facilities to cope with the surge.

In the United States, there is no clear data available yet, but the country does have a better-established system.

Recommendations Moving Forward to Reduce and Improve Waste Management Strategies

In their report, the WHO provided a few recommendations about how to move forward to ensure the proper disposal and implementation of best practices in medical waste management. Some of the solutions proposed include:

  • Encouragement of safe and rational use to decrease the amount of necessary PPE used

  • Moving towards sustainable packaging

  • Possible development of safely reusable and easily disinfected equipment such as gloves, masks, or aprons

  • The investment and development of regional PPE production

  • Encouraging local production that focuses on just-in-time shipments to avoid overproduction

These recommendations are global, of course, and are meant to address the concerns posed by the global pandemic. In the United States, we have a good working system that— although it had many challenges— managed to keep waste management under control and avoid pile-ups or major incidents.

Have Questions About Proper Medical Disposal Management?

Since 2013, we have been serving the community with regulated medical waste transportation and treatment services. We understand the importance of providing reliable and quality disposal services to our hard-working healthcare community.

We’re here to answer your questions. Find out more. Call Mediwaste Disposal today.

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