December 05, 2023

4 Consumer Concerns Regarding the Impact of Medical Waste Management

Waste can have various impacts on individuals and communities, which underscores the importance of its proper management, particularly when dealing with medical waste. Recent insights and statistics from Stericycle's 2023 Healthcare Workplace Safety Trend Report (HWSTR) emphasize the significance of effective medical waste management, many of which reveal the direct concerns of consumers.

Consumers surveyed in the HWSTR report recognize the importance of effective medical waste management strategies. In total, 98% say it is at least somewhat critical. Forty-six percent say it is ‘extremely critical,’ and 22% say it is ‘the most critical factor’. Compared to healthcare professionals (HCPs), consumers are even more concerned about the impacts and risks of ineffective medical waste management and disposal.

The HWSTR report delves into four potential impacts of ineffective waste management and disposal that are top concerns for consumers: environmental impact, patient health and safety, HCPs safety, and community impacts.

1. Impact on the Environment

One estimate indicates that the average hospital produces approximately 29 pounds of waste per bed per day. Improper disposal of this waste has the potential to spread diseases to humans and animals, as discarded needles outside of their appropriate containers pose a risk of infections. Healthcare professionals and consumers surveyed in the HWSTR indicate that they are concerned about the environmental impact of ineffective medical waste management.

Improper waste segregation can negatively affect sustainability efforts and increase costs. Effective measures for managing medical waste not only reduce environmental impact but can also help organizations achieve sustainability and climate goals.

As an industry leader, Stericycle understands the importance of compliantly managing the collection, transportation, treatment, and disposal of various types of medical wastes. Some of the different medical waste types may include:   

  • Regulated Medical Waste (RMW): Includes items saturated with human blood or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM).
  • Trace Chemotherapy Waste: Includes empty chemo drug vials, syringes and hypodermic needles, spill kits, IV tubing and bags, contaminated gloves and gowns, materials from spill cleanups, or bodily fluids/waste.
  • Pathological Waste: Human or animal body parts (exceptions apply, check the waste acceptance policy for details, organs, tissues, and surgical specimens (decanted of formaldehyde, formalin, or other preservatives).
  • Sharps Waste: Needles, scalpels, blades, and pipettes that have come in contact with blood, body fluids, or microorganisms should be disposed of in a designated disposable sharps container.
  • Pharmaceutical Waste: Includes unused, unwanted, or expired medications or supplements.

2. Risk to Patient Health and Safety

Patient safety is a paramount concern for healthcare facilities and professionals. According to the 2023 HWSTR, 90% of consumers surveyed said they agree that medical waste management is important to delivering the best possible patient care. Eighty-two percent of consumers responded that they are concerned about the risks medical waste management poses to patient health and safety. To create healthier and safer care environments, innovative approaches are required. Continuous communication, education, teamwork, and strict adherence to policies are vital.

3. Risk to Healthcare Professionals Safety

Healthcare professionals can face risks related to improper medical waste management. For example, a used sharp (such as a needle or syringe) disposed of in a regular trash can could lead to a needlestick injury. The HWSTR found that 81% of consumers surveyed are concerned about the risks of improper medical waste management on the health and safety of HCPs. Safety in medical waste segregation and disposal is essential for front-line healthcare workers and proper waste segregation can significantly reduce the risk of injury or exposure. Utilizing a closable, puncture-resistant, and appropriately labeled sharps container to dispose of used needles helps mitigate that risk of exposure.

Healthcare organizations can help avoid endangering workers by maintaining a robust medical waste segregation program. Proper medical waste management can also benefit patients and non-provider employees (such as Environmental Services staff). Organizations should train employees on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, including job-related risks and how to prevent workplace exposures.

Stericycle offers valuable resources, including Steri-Safe® OSHA Compliance, which comprises comprehensive online training and resources designed to help healthcare facilities maintain OSHA compliance and create a safer workplace. These resources also assist staff in understanding how proper training and resources can significantly reduce the risks associated with medical waste management for healthcare professionals.

4. Impact on the Community: Opioid Epidemic

Improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste poses a significant risk to communities, particularly in the face of the ongoing opioid epidemic. The HWSTR reveals that both consumers and healthcare workers recognize the risk of drug diversion to the community.

Stericycle Safe Community Solutions are available to address this issue. Stericycle helps support Drug Take Back Programs and works closely with hospital and retail pharmacies and other organizations to help enable the anonymous collection of unused drugs all year. Here are some ways we help dispose of unused consumer medications:

  • MedDropTM Medication Collection Kiosks: DEA-registered hospitals and retail pharmacies can encourage responsible drug collection with our MedDrop™ medication collection kiosks. Stericycle incinerates this collected material.
  • Seal&SendTM Consumer Medication Mail Envelopes: For those who cannot access a drug-take back location, Stericycle offers Seal&Send™ Consumer Medication Mail Envelopes. These prepaid envelopes allow patients to send up to eight ounces of unused medication to Stericycle via USPS for incineration. Unlike drug collection kiosks, which can only be hosted by certain DEA registrants, any organization can purchase Seal&SendTM envelopes and provide them to patients, employees, students, and others.

Download our infographic for more consumer insights into medical waste management. Learn how Stericycle can help manage your facility’s medical waste.

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