The management of hospital and medical practice waste can be difficult, time consuming and expensive. Current management around the world raises questions about the effect of this waste on our environment. Some experts believe that a switch to bio-based and biodegradable disposable products could be the key lowering our carbon footprint and taking the hassle out of waste management.
According to a report by the WHO in Feb 2018, high-income countries generate on average up to 0.5 kg of hazardous waste per hospital bed per day. Low-income countries generate on average 0.2 kg (1). Hospitals deal with this waste in a number of ways, including incineration of dangerous waste, recycling or sending it to a landfill.
Dutch researcher and programme manager for bio-based materials at the Wageningen University & Research centre in the Netherlands, Christiaan Bolck, found that many hospital products are available in bio-based, biodegradable versions. However, these are often not purchased in these forms.
"You look at what you can buy right now, that is really the low hanging fruits, you don't have to develop it, you can buy it," says Bolck (2). The products that are most difficult to make biodegradable are sensitive medical products like syringes and blood bags. However, hospitals around the world use many other products which are not biodegradable, but could be produced from biodegradable material. The most common items include plastic items like packaging.
The replacement of non-biodegradable hospital products, to biodegradable bio-based materials, is a small but substantial step in reducing our carbon footprint and advocating for the sustainability of our healthcare system.