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Exploring Alternatives to Incineration of Medical Waste

alternatives to incineration
Waste is an unavoidable part of modern life. Options need to be provided for managing the refuse that the health sector produces. While incineration is still the method most commonly employed, it produces dioxins as a by-product. Dioxins are probably the most poisonous pollutants on the planet. They enter the food chain when livestock is exposed. A study in the US by the Environmental Protection Agency showed that incinerators for medical waste produce almost half of the country’s atmospheric dioxins. One of the causes of this problem is that many medical waste items contain PVC, which when burned releases dioxins. The WHO has stressed that PVC should not be burned for this reason. The Indian government has gone so far as to ban the use of PVC completely.

Progress is being made. In the last twenty or so years, the US has shut down 99% of its medical waste incinerators. In the Philippines they’ve shown that incineration can be completely done away with. In their major cities, they handle infectious waste in autoclaves and microwaves. There are currently over one hundred different companies providing alternative technologies for medical waste treatment to sixty countries.

It seems that where there’s a will there’s a way. If we recognize that burning is not the best option for disposing of our waste, particularly medical waste, we’ll utilize and improve on the healthier, lower pollution options available.