The Issue

Hospitals generate millions of tons of waste each year. Unfortunately, health care waste management is still poorly funded and implemented. The combined toxic and infectious properties of medical waste represent an underestimated environmental and public health threat. A recent literature review came to the conclusion that over half the world’s population is at risk from the health impacts of healthcare waste.

Burning of medical waste generates a number of hazardous gases and compounds, including hydrochloric acid, dioxins and furans, and the toxic metals lead, cadmium, and mercury. The disposal of solid waste produces greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, a greenhouse gas twenty-one times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Properly managed, healthcare waste should not cause any adverse impacts on human health or the environment. Medical waste management is complex and success is in large part dependent on changing the habits of hospital staff.

A variety of non-burn technologies are available that can safely disinfect, neutralize or contain the wastes for landfill disposal. Information on alternative treatment technologies and waste Management is freely available.

Action Items

  • Reduce, treat and safely dispose of healthcare waste
  • Protect public health by reducing the volume and toxicity of waste produced by the health sector, while implementing the most environmentally sound waste management and disposal options.