HCWH Europe has released a brand new position paper on the management of healthcare waste: Sustainable healthcare waste management in the EU Circular Economy model.
The healthcare sector generates millions of tonnes of waste worldwide each year, and waste negatively impacts our environment, health, and well-being in many ways - how we dispose of waste can contribute to climate change, release air pollutants into the atmosphere, or contaminate water and soil.
The healthcare sector has a unique healing mission to protect and restore health and save lives, however, the quantities of waste generated by the sector and the methods of disposal activities can paradoxically undermine this mission. The volume of waste generated by the healthcare sector is huge and has been for some time, but more recently we have seen a sudden increase in healthcare waste generated as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, an increased use of single use personal protection equipment (PPE), and unsound waste management.
The large majority of waste produced by the healthcare sector is actually non-hazardous and similar to domestic waste i.e. much of it can be easily recycled. This lack of segregation and separate waste streams is a missed opportunity to efficiently recycle material and the quantity of waste categorised as hazardous is artificially inflated – increasing not only the environmental impacts of disposal methods, but also the financial costs of disposal and treatment.
As well as background information and specific data on waste management in the healthcare sector, this paper also contains results from a survey conducted by HCWH Europe earlier in 2020 and gives a snapshot of healthcare waste management in Europe.
Our position paper sets out five principles for sustainable healthcare waste management in Europe, with particular reference to the EU Circular Economy framework. We also provide key actions for healthcare organisations to take on issues and initiatives such as zero waste and toxic-free, a phase down of incineration, and protecting workers.
It’s time to act - we urgently need to work towards more sustainable healthcare waste management.