Updated: Nov 1
The United States has thousands of hospitals operating day in and day out. These hospitals see hundreds if not thousands of patients every day, resulting in the collection of pounds upon pounds of medical waste, much of it biohazardous. In the year 2020, for example, there was suddenly much more attention paid to how hospitals maintained a safe working environment for their employees, staff, and patients, as the coronavirus ravaged many of the national emergency rooms. So where does all this medical waste go? And how do hospitals and clinics ensure that they are appropriately disposing of their medical waste? Let’s find out!
Statistics On Medical Waste Produced by the United States
According to the United States Hospital Association, there are a total of 6,090 hospitals across the nation. The total number of staffed beds in the country is 919, 559. That’s a lot of patients seen in one year. The disposal of medical and biohazardous waste is a big part of a facility’s safe work environment.
Based on some 2020 numbers, here’s what we know:
The Global News Wire reported that United States hospitals produce approximately 6 million tons of waste every year.
There was a significant rise in the production of medical waste in 2020 (during the peak of the pandemic) even though elective procedures were reduced considerably during this time.
The U.S. medical management market had a market value of USD 4.08 billion in 2018. This growth is reflective of growing concerns and regulations around medical waste disposal.
Where Does Medical Waste Go?
For most patients and even some staff in the hospital or clinic, the fate of the waste produced is not always front and center. For nurses and doctors, the priority is patient care, and many don’t learn about what we call the “cradle-to-grave” responsibility of medical waste until they’ve faced fines or penalties. Medical waste, however, is carefully categorized to ensure proper disposal.
The point is, medical waste has a clearly defined journey from the medical facility to specialized vehicles and transportation to specially designated waste sites, incinerators, or landfills.
What Does Cradle-to-Grave Refer To?
It’s a commonly-used term in the industry. It refers to a medical facility’s responsibility for medical waste from the point that it is produced to the point where it is rendered absolutely harmless. In other words, the waste is the responsibility of the medical facility even after it leaves its premises and until (and only until) it is properly destroyed and/or disposed of as per state and federal guidelines.
That includes ensuring the proper transportation and disposal of the waste.
Making the waste go to the right place is typically a direct responsibility of hospital managers or facility managers, depending on the kind of facility. So what is the fate of some of the country’s medical waste?
Medical Waste Incineration
The United States has strict rules about medical waste incineration. The process involves the burning of the waste produced by clinics, hospitals, veterinary facilities, and even research facilities.
There are two main types of waste produced:
Infection waste: This is the biohazardous wastes we see in the red bag.
Non-infectious waste: This can refer to general housekeeping wastes.
As per the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States, there are three types of incineration methods used:
Controlled air incinerators. These are the most commonly used type of incinerators in the field. This mechanism works in two stages: one uses combustion air that enters from below the incinerator hearth and the second stage uses excess air to finish the combustion process. The first stage is designed to be air-deprived so that the material is dried out and facilitates the volatilization of the waste.
Excess air. These are not so widely used and are much smaller units. They have multiple chambers. The waste is placed in the combustion chamber, heated to the target temperature, the primary burner ignites—it dries and heats the waste. Once the moisture is vaporized, the secondary chamber comes in. Another burner is often installed in the second chamber as well as pollution control devices.
Rotary kiln. These also have two chambers that split the work of heating, burning, and vaporizing. The primary chamber is a rotating kiln where the waste materials move from the feed end to the end that discharges the ash.
The autoclave is another method that treats medical waste to achieve proper disposal. The autoclave uses steam instead of burners to heat the materials and kill pathogens. The steam must be produced at high temperatures for clearly defined time periods (to ensure proper heating). The high-pressure steam will effectively kill bacteria and harmful pathogens that can cause contamination to the environment, wildlife, and surrounding communities.
Types of waste that is safe to autoclave includes:
Some red bag waste
The temperature and pressure of the autoclave are constantly checked and verified by local and state authorities. This ensures that any waste treated through an autoclave is being treated to the appropriate level.
Medical Waste or Specialized LandFill
The final step of the journey is the landfill. After waste is run through the autoclave it is considered properly ‘treated.’ Once this is done, a medical waste handler will drive it to the appropriate and designated landfill to dispose of it.
Select a Premiere Waste Disposal Partner to Handle Your Waste and Liability
Medical practices and hospitals have a lot on their hands. The added responsibility of proper disposal can weigh heavily on a facility’s time and resources. This is why companies like Mediwaste Disposal are happy to help! Located in El Paso, we service the entire area and help hospitals and clinics dispose of their waste worry-free. A med waste company will have proper insurance, the necessary vehicles, transportation methods, trained drivers and staff, and necessary autoclaves and equipment, as well as access to the landfills.
This means we take care of it, from the cradle to the grave. Want to learn more about our services in medical waste disposal? Contact our office today and get started.