The waste generated by the use of medical products is an urgent global environmental problem.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste comparable to domestic waste. The remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, chemical or radioactive.”
Healthcare waste is generated mainly from hospitals and other healthcare facilities, laboratories and research centers, mortuaries and autopsy centers, animal research and testing centers, blood banks and collection services, and nursing homes for the infirm and elderly. These include:
● Infectious waste, consisting of materials contaminated with blood and other bodily
fluids from discarded diagnostic samples, cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratories, and swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices from patients with infections;
● Pathological waste, consisting of human tissues, organs or fluids, body parts and contaminated animal carcasses;
● Sharps consisting of syringes, needles, disposable scalpels, blades, etc.;
● Chemical waste like solvents and reagents used in laboratories, disinfectants,
sterilants and heavy metals contained in medical devices (e.g. mercury in broken
thermometers) and batteries;
● Pharmaceutical waste such as expired, unused and contaminated drugs and
● Cytotoxic waste containing highly hazardous substances that are potentially mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic, such as cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites;
● Radioactive waste contaminated by radionuclides including radioactive diagnostic material or radiotherapeutic materials; and
● Non-hazardous or general waste that does not pose any particular biological, chemical, radioactive or physical hazard.
Healthcare and medical waste recycling in America is an important aspect of
sustainable practices. While some medical waste is not suitable for recycling due to
contamination or biohazardous properties, there are certain types of medical waste that can be recycled safely and effectively. These include paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, and metals from non-hazardous medical waste streams. Medical waste management is a highly regulated field, and recycling efforts ideally prioritize safety and compliance with applicable regulations. Healthcare facilities usually work closely with waste
management professionals and follow established guidelines to ensure the proper handling, treatment, and recycling of medical waste in accordance with local regulations.
Treatment and disposal of healthcare waste potentially pose health risks indirectly
through the release of pathogens and toxic pollutants into the environment. Untreated
health care wastes from landfills can be a source of drinking and ground water
contamination. Inadequate incineration or the incineration of unsuitable materials could result in impure air quality and generation of ash residue. Incineration of chlorinated
materials can generate dioxins and furans, which are known to be carcinogenic and associated with a range of adverse health effects. Heavy metal incineration can also be environmentally hazardous. Alternatives to incineration should be considered where there are sufficient resources to operate and maintain such systems and dispose of the treated waste.
According to the WHO, lack of awareness about health-care waste hazards, inadequate training in proper methods of waste management, absence of waste management and disposal systems, insufficient financial and human resources, and the low priority given to the topic are the most common problems connected with health-care waste. While several countries are tightly regulating and executing climate and environmental policies, there are still countries that do not have appropriate regulations, or do not enforce them.
The Vantage Market Analysis Report notes that, “The Global Medical Waste Management Market is valued at USD 6.31 Billion in the year 2022 and is projected to reach a value
of USD 9.39 Billion by the year 2030. The Global Market is anticipated to grow to exhibit a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.10% over the forecast period.”
The key players in the global medical waste management market include- Stericycle
(US), Veolia Environnement S.A. (France), Suez Environnement (France), Clean Harbors (US), REMONDIS AG & Co. KG (Germany), Sharps Compliance Inc. (US), Waste Management Inc. (US), BioMedical Waste Solutions LLC (US), Daniels Sharpsmart Inc. (Australia), Republic Services Inc. (US), EcoMed Services (US), GRP & Associates (US), BWS Incorporated (US), MedPro Disposal (US), GIC Medical Disposal (Canada), Gamma Waste Services (US), Triumvirate Environmental (US), EPCO (Saudi Arabia), Casella Waste Systems Inc. (US), and All Medical Waste Australia Pty Ltd. (Australia).
The healthcare industry and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors are
increasingly intertwined as companies recognize the importance of sustainable and socially responsible practices. Healthcare companies are becoming more aware of their environmental impacts and are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, such as implementing energy-efficient practices, minimizing waste generation, and adopting sustainable supply chain management. More hospitals world over are implementing recycling programs, transitioning to electronic health records to reduce paper waste, and implementing energy-efficient technologies in their facilities.
Additionally, the healthcare industry plays a critical role in addressing social issues, such as access to healthcare, affordability, and patient safety. ESG considerations in the healthcare sector include providing equitable access to healthcare services, addressing healthcare
disparities, and ensuring patient privacy and data security. Companies that prioritize social responsibility may invest in initiatives that improve healthcare outcomes for underserved communities, support healthcare education and awareness programs, and contribute to public health initiatives. Healthcare companies are also expected to have strong governance structures, effective risk management systems, and robust policies and procedures to uphold ethical standards.
Integrating ESG considerations in the healthcare industry can have several benefits, including improved long-term financial performance, enhanced reputation, and reduced
operational risks. Specific ESG initiatives and priorities vary among healthcare
companies and depend on factors such as their size, business model, and geographic location. Nonetheless, the overall trend in the industry is towards greater ESG
integration as part of a broader movement towards sustainability and responsible business practices. Several of the major healthcare companies reporting their ESG focus include,
1. Johnson & Johnson, a multinational healthcare company that has been
consistently recognized for its commitment to ESG practices. The company
focuses on areas such as sustainable product development, responsible supply chain management, diversity and inclusion, and philanthropy.
2. Novartis, a global pharmaceutical company, has made significant strides in integrating ESG factors into its operations. The company has set ambitious sustainability goals, including carbon neutrality by 2025 and a commitment to responsible water management. Novartis also prioritizes access to healthcare in underserved communities, and its social impact initiatives aim to address global health challenges.
3. Roche, a leading biotechnology and pharmaceutical company, has demonstrated
a strong ESG commitment by implementing environmental initiatives to reduce its
carbon emissions, minimize waste, and improve energy efficiency. The company also focuses on patient safety and data privacy, and it actively promotes diversity and inclusion within its workforce and supply chain.
4. GSK is a multinational pharmaceutical company that has placed a significant
emphasis on ESG considerations. The company has set ambitious sustainability goals, including carbon neutrality and zero waste to landfill by 2025. GSK has also made commitments to improve access to medicines in low- and middle-income countries and has been recognized for its efforts in combating global health challenges.
5. Medtronic, a global medical technology company focuses on environmental
sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water usage. Medtronic
also prioritizes ethical business practices, including strong governance, compliance, and patient safety.
Reducing the carbon footprint of medical waste management requires a holistic approach, including waste reduction, efficient transportation, adoption of cleaner treatment technologies, energy-efficient operations, and responsible waste disposal practices. It is important for healthcare facilities and waste management companies to prioritize sustainability and explore innovative solutions to minimize the environmental impact of medical waste management. The growing global trend towards sustainable medical waste management, including waste reduction, recycling, and energy recovery to minimize environmental impact and promote a circular economy is promising and continues to open ways for green investments in this sector.