Busted for reselling waste from Chinese hospitals

In April, police found blood-stained needles and infusion bags littering the grounds of an unlicensed recycling workshop in Yangliu village, Hunan province, China.

At least some of the 140 tons of improperly processed waste from different hospitals likely entered the consumer market, where it would have been used with food, home decorations and other products.

The hospital waste – which included infectious materials like urine and blood – was sold for RMB2,000 per ton to the village-based group, which targeted plastic materials. After processing, the plastics could be sold for RMB5,000 per ton  (about £230) on markets in Hebei province.

“They were not even wearing masks,” said Xu Shuli, chief of the Emergency Centre of the Environmental Protection Agency. “This workshop polluted the environment… by directly draining the water used to wash the medical waste.”


On June 5, the Higher People’s Court of Hunan province confirmed that more than 140 tons of medical waste had been processed in that workshop.

Twelve people from Hunan, Hubei, Henan, Jiangsu and other provinces were sentenced for environment pollution.

The plastics were being processed into acrylics and likely had already entered the market.

The report describes a hospital waste disposal system in disarray, with an environmental department confirming that some hospitals failed to separate hazardous waste before entrusting it to profit-driven, cleaning companies.

Though supposed to be sorting the waste, some companies actively mixed hazardous and non-hazardous waste to increase weight.

Remote medical centres are technically required to deliver medical waste to city treatment centres, but dodge the rule by mixing it with household garbage before selling it to be processed, according Liu Shuai, a head of an environmental department in Hunan province.

Liu said punishment for breaking the disposal law is too weak, while small towns are not equipped to deal with hospital waste.


Regrettably, this illegal trade is not uncommon in the Far East and Asia. Much involves corruption – and poverty – among hospital staff who are happy to take ash as untreated wastes leave from the back door. In the case reported here it seems that some, perhaps all or the waste was destined for some sort of material recovery and recycling so the final product, whatever this was, was perhaps reasonably safe.

In other cases that we have reported on the Clinical Waste Discussion Forum, and which have been investigated by Blenkharn Environmental, used drug wastes and medical disposables including syringes, needles and IV bags & tubing find their way back into use. More money changes hand and while criminals get rich the health of patients and others is placed at great risk.

The work of those who investigate and regulate this issue is obviously vital but, as an aside, I note that the Chief of the Emergency Centre of the Environmental Protection Agency was concerned about the lack of masks. I can’t help thinking that they should be wearing some sort of protective overall and gloves too!


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