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What to do with medical waste?

As a design student researching environmental policy and the possibility of sustainable design, I've become fascinated with the ideas surrounding cradle to cradle design, waste not being used as waste, but as business capital, and trying to investigate the possibilities and irregularities surrounding compensation when these theories are not applied and human and environmental damage occurs as a result.
My question surrounds the process of medical waste incineration. Less than 2 miles from my home town, a Scottish village, Healthcare Environmental have been granted planning permission to open a plant, the people attempted to stop this, however, were overpowered by the company's lawyers and it is, unfortunately going ahead.
What are your opinions on the use of incineration to destroy medical waste in general? What are your opinions on incinerating waste in such close proximity to local villages? Can you think of any way to use medical waste in another process?
Any opinions/thoughts/comments will be welcome.

  • Oct 12 2012: NIMBY ( is a common objection to anything. Ironically, Nimbies still want to avail the benefits of the activity they are objecting to.

    If they were to open a medical waste incineration plant near my own village, I'd want to know the following things:
    1. What are the plausible risks?
    2. What plans are in place in case of accidents, to make sure that the neighbourhood is still safe?
    3. Let's say they cannot fix a particular issue, and the neighbourhood is affected. Do they have enough insurance to compensate the affected parties?

    Lay people like you and I cannot answer any of these questions -- the first two needs experts in the field. The last needs lawyers. That is why this comes under the purview of your local municipality. What you can do is contact them, and make sure that all these dealings are completely open. Ask for documentary proof of all these things, and more! If the authorities are not open at any point, get the village together to put pressure on them.

    Medical waste is seriously bad s***. If not handled properly, it has the potential to cause epidemics and mass poisoning. Given that you live in a developed country, if things are going as planned, you won't ever get your own hands on that stuff -- even to experiment. Don't attempt to "solve" the issue unless you have proper credentials in one of the associated fields -- medicine, civil engineering, environmental engineering and law. That would like some hobbyist experimenting with nuclear fission.
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    Oct 12 2012: Ken: As I hope my previous (following?) comment made plain, it is not important what name you attach to waste or what it consists of. That is a red herring. What is important is how it was designed, how the social assumptions of usage were designed and who can make money by the environmentally wasteful, resource destructive assumptions that are forced on us. That applies across the board. The first progressive thing you can do is to stop calling excesses, byproducts and unwanted products by names like waste, trash or garbage. Call them what they objectively are - temporarily unwanted products or excesses. Then apply intelligent thought, rather than animal rage. We are scientific, modern humans who think rationally about most things. Why turn off rationality when dealing with unwanted products?

    Be sure you get the distinction here - I am NOT talking about finding a USE for WASTE. That is invariably a failed idea. I am saying we should question whether anything should exist that was designed to become a product with no owner, no continued path for high level, high function reuse going on and on. Why is resource abandonment and destruction so enticing to us, our social assumptions and the marketers who came up with planned obsolescence? Let' stop it right now. The planet demands a better, scientific approach. See
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      Oct 12 2012: Please hit the reply button Paul, there is no way i could've replied within relative time to a persons liking without constantly checking back on the thousands of posts i've made, if this is the case if not, then please disregard what i've just typed and i fully understand the intention of the placement of the post, please don't take it in the wrong light.

      I whole heartedly agree and partially disagree but this is from personal experience from a different time and era.....a long time ago. I'm not a professional but had the honour of working in a surgical unit with a great team of health professionals, it rubs off on you in a pretty short time and witnessed the change over to use once only implements as opposed to using totally autoclaved tools (sterilized) though some still had to be autoclaved, the change gave rise to the reduction of the sterilization unit to outside contracting. Money.

      I don't know the current system but that is what i saw in my time and syringe tips are the most dangerous items and probably the number one infector when it comes to accidental pricking during disposal either before they are deposited in a bio hazard container to accidental spillage upon final disposal but i cannot say this is true, one would have to research the data so don't take my word for it. I trying to read through your site now, it looks good.
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    Oct 12 2012: As soon as you call something "medical waste" you have abandoned intelligent ways to solve or even approach the associated ideas and problems. Calling anything a waste - hazardous, household haz, e-waste, bio-waste, radwaste etc. - in our society, presupposes a constellation of responses which dictate destruction. The very powerful Garbage Industry is delighted because this means they have one more profit stream as they scheme for a way to destroy, destroy. With the imprimatur of all society which joins in the chorus demanding destruction.

    What is required, in my analysis, is to back up and ask why this excess material, without a sponsor or owner or anyone who cares, even exists. Where does it come from and how was its history and owner responsibility expunged so that it no longer has any champion (usually meaning an owner who has a use for it). Our society bitterly resists any such analysis. Americans just adore garbage and will not put up with it being withdrawn (no, I'm not kidding or exaggerating).

    There is no time to explore this in depth here but this kind of analysis is fundamental and needs to always be the first response to finding some product which is no longer wanted. Just abandoning it to the lazy, irresponsible notion of "waste" leading to the drive to destruction is insane. No civilized society should put up with the acceptance of garbage for one second. But we are not in the habit of questioning our cultural assumptions. Our reaction is to snarl at the messenger and parade our assumed superiority, rather than being pricked into deep thought. An assumption that has become cultural is drenched in validation on every hand and seems unassailable. Thinking about the origins of unwanted goods fits this perfectly.

    And incidentally, McDonough does NOT argue for redesign or intelligent reuse. He accepts goods pretty much as encountered, slightly tweaks them, and tells industry what it wants to hear, thus his popularity.
  • Oct 10 2012: IMO, proper incineration is a good idea.

    These incinerators should be very tightly regulated and controlled. The temperature should be kept extremely high and monitored constantly. The outputs should be continually tested for anything hazardous, including the possibility of new compounds formulated by the incineration process.

    I have not read anything about these incinerators for years. The last article I read said that if the temperature is high enough, ALL chemical compounds are reduced to very simple nonhazardous compounds that can be released without any environmental damage (except perhaps adding some CO2 to the atmosphere). If that is true, and the incinerator is monitored to assure that it continues to be true, it seems like a a great solution.

    This would not apply to radioactive waste. To the best of my knowledge, radioactivity is not affected by incineration.
  • Oct 7 2012: Mr. Brown's comment leads me to another thought. if they are not segregating waste, perhaps they should start. Your options may increase if your have a specific type of waste, and the impact of incinerating plastic vs paper or wood might be much different.
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    Oct 6 2012: Could you be a little more specific? are we talking about biological waste? hazardous biological waste? use once and throw tools? eg plastic tools? plastic syringes? etc.