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Mismanagement of Biomedical Waste: A Threat to Living Beings

July 20, 2020

With the increasing population, the country’s focus is also increasing towards facilities like sanitation, water allocation, electricity supply and food distribution. In terms to provide all these amenities, the major public service that gets ignored is Waste management. The waste can further be categorized into:

In this article, we will particularly be putting light on the concerns related to Biomedical waste which can also be termed as sanitary and hazardous waste. Bio-medical waste is the waste generated during the medical treatment of a living being. The waste is likely to be hazardous in solid or liquid form. Hospitals, healthcare clinics, nursing homes, houses with medical patients, veterinary hospitals, laboratories, etc. are a few places that generate biomedical waste.

In a country like India, out of the total amount of solid waste generated in a city, 1 to 1.5% is Biomedical waste of which 10-15% is considered infectious.
After knowing the source of the waste, the next step becomes the stratification of biomedical waste. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) medical waste is classified into:

Infectious Waste – Waste that is generated after the treatment of an individual and is contaminated with infection. Equipment like needles, scalpels, discarded bandages, etc.

Pathological Waste – Tissue samples collected for analysis at a path lab is one of the examples of pathological waste. It also includes animal tissues, organs, body parts or carcasses used in research.

Pharmaceutical Waste – The chemist shops or pharmacies need to stock-up medicines without undermining the emergency. Sometimes with less or no purchase of the drugs or medicines, they go unused and expire, like creams, pills, antibiotics, etc.

Genotoxic Waste – This kind of wastes include residues of certain cytostatic drugs or vomit, urine and faeces from patients treated with cytostatic drugs, chemicals and radioactive material.

Radioactive Waste – Any waste generated post the procedure of radiation oncology and PET. The waste contains potentially radioactive material which can be really subversive.

Chemical Waste – Liquid waste, typically from machines, batteries and disinfectants

General/Other Waste – All other, non-hazardous waste.

The basic principle of good BMW management practice is based on the concept of 3Rs, namely, reduce, recycle, and reuse. Every hospital and healthcare facility in every country have their own system of defining these segregations according to their treatment procedures.

Problems associated with biomedical waste at every step of waste management at home

Dr Kirti Bhushan, the Director-General of Health Services of the Delhi government said, "Safe and effective management of waste is not only a legal necessity but also a social responsibility. Lack of concern, motivation, awareness and cost factor are some of the problems faced in proper biomedical waste management. To avoid any kind of infection and ensure environmental conservation, every healthcare facility encourages safe working practices. Then the question arises, what about patients opting for home healthcare services post-surgery or post any other treatment? Is the waste generated, then disposed of with utmost care? The rapid development in the medical sector has made lives very comfortable but also had an adverse effect on the environment and living beings.

Without a proper disposal plan for the medical waste at home, the patient not only risks living in a hazardous zone but also exposes his/her family members to a contaminated environment. The steps taken by large healthcare clinics or facilities for the segregation of waste are difficult to be followed at home, thus it leads to problems like environmental hazards, health hazards etc.

Environmental Hazard

Environmental Hazards: The improper management of biomedical waste can trigger serious threats for the environment by causing air, land and water pollution. The in-home patients also become the target of these types of waste as it contaminates drinking water and landfills around the house. This can be life-threatening to animals and plants. As various pollutants leach out in the environment, they spoil the quality and make living a menace for plants and animals.

Waste Pickers

Accidental Contact to infected equipment: As not everyone is proficient with the segregation of the waste, many might come in contact with the hazardous waste. The family member in order to keep the room clean may try to dispose of waste themselves, without realising the outcomes. Equipment like a needle, used bandages etc. should be gotten rid of in a proper manner and not be touched without the consultation of the nurse or doctor. Even when thrown away, the ragpickers are not well-acquainted to the risks associated with the equipment that they are coming in contact with.

Dumping waste

Health Hazards: Disposing of waste in open areas without proper treatment can present several health hazards to the patients, families associated with the patient, healthcare as well as waste management workers and the general public. One of the reasons for transit can be burning of waste as it can cause respiratory diseases.

What can be done?

The minimum approach towards waste management can be the three-bin system. In underdeveloped or unorganized nations, a rapid improvement can be made in the medical sector with this technique. The procedure can also be followed through for in-home patients. This allows disposing of biomedical waste in three reusable containers with different colour codes.

These colour codes help to identify the bins and distinguish between general and infectious waste in the medical facility. Where reusable bins are used they should be washed and preferably disinfected before returning to the medical area. This will not only ensure safety of the patients but will also prove to be a protective measure for the caretakers working in facilities providing in-home care.

Divisions classifications

The medical waste generated at the hospital or any institutions should be segregated at the source itself and should not be mixed with other variants. If possible the waste should be processed and transported out of the facility every day otherwise within 48 hrs. Keeping in mind the new rules and regulations set by the government in light of COVID 19, the segregation of waste has been improved. The proper use of gloves, masks, PPE kit, etc. is also recommended amongst the waste collectors to avoid any life risks.

India is likely to generate about 775.5 tonnes of medical waste per day by 2022 from the current level of 550.9 tonnes daily, a study conducted jointly by industry body ASSOCHAM and Velocity have said.

In today’s time, we not only need to worry about development but also the problems associated with it. The medical advancements are saving a lot of lives in the present time but are also taking away from some due to the waste it generates. Following the government guidelines and taking self precautions can help those who knowingly or unknowingly become victims of biomedical waste hazard.