Whether you're a diabetic who regularly injects insulin, or a patient undergoing in-home nursing care while recuperating from a severe illness, you may be conscious of the potential effect the disposal of your medical waste has on the environment. Because the disposal and recycling of medical waste -- everything from used needles to soiled bandages -- is carefully regulated and enforced by the federal government (and most state governments), and can be punishable by fines and other penalties, it's important to ensure that you're abiding by all applicable medical waste guidelines during your treatment. Fortunately, there are now more ways than ever to abide by these guidelines while minimizing the environmental impact of your medical waste. Read on to learn more about some environmentally-friendly disposal and recycling methods for medical waste that you may be able to implement during your own treatment.
Mail-in sharps recycling
Used needles, testing devices, and other "sharps" are carefully regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These sharps must be made incapable of piercing the skin before they can be thrown away, and must either have the needle removed (through cutting or burning) prior to being thrown in regular household trash, or must be placed in a hard-sided sharps container that cannot be penetrated by the needle. Many sharps users opted to spend time destroying their needles at home or regularly visited a doctor's office or other public disposal site and paid a fee to properly dispose of used sharps.
A number of companies now offer mail-in sharps disposal, helping eliminate the time, hassle, and fuel costs of having to drop off sharps at a central location. Generally, you'll rent a sharps disposal container from this company and then notify them when the container is nearly full. A home pickup will be scheduled, and you'll be provided with a new container to use for your sharps. Because these sharps are destroyed in a uniform manner at a processing facility, both the needles and the plastic may be recyclable without incurring the sorting costs inherent in processing and recycling sharps destroyed at home. This is one of the fairly unique medical waste removal methods that is both cheaper for the consumer and better for the environment.
One type of waste that is often deemed harmless is unused prescription medication. Although some medications can be safely disposed of by flushing, other liquids or pills could potentially leach harmful substances into the local water supply. For example, the disposal of certain types of blood thinners has been shown to cause internal bleeding in fish and small amphibians in areas where treated wastewater is discharged. Because most wastewater treatment facilities don't have the capability to filter out these types of substances, water supplies can become more and more drug-contaminated without proper prevention. Recycling your medications can allow uncontaminated medications to be given to low-income populations, while expired medication can be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way, like controlled incineration.
Composting biohazardous waste
By sending certain types of biodegradable, biohazardous waste (like used cotton gauze containing blood or bodily waste) to a composting facility, this waste can be neutralized with natural microbes in the soil and compost. Another relatively recent option is alkaline hydrosis. Also used as an alternative to cremation, this process involves the degrading of cells by introducing hydrogen atoms, rapidly decomposing the organic matter into water and carbon. This process is a great alternative to incineration, and neutralizes pathogens into a harmless combination of water and ash that can be harmlessly disposed of through any number of methods. If your treatment involves the creation of a great deal of biohazardous waste, you may want to look to a company that specializes in alkaline hydrosis if you'd like to reduce your carbon footprint.