Plastics recovered from clinical wastes

Hard plastics and non-woven polypropylene comprise anything up to 30% by weight of most UK clinical wastes. Much of that might be recovered for re-use, generally as low value mixed plastic crumb destined for moulding of miscellaneous products for garden and highways use, or as refuse-derived fuel.

Much more plastic can be recovered from sharps bin disposal with opportunities for a higher grade product from syringes and from the sharps bins themselves. Unfortunately, current interpretations of a vague regulatory framework place effectively insurmountable barriers to resource recovery and consign all of that fraction to incineration.

In India, it is estimated that four to five tonnes of biomedical waste are generated every day from government and private hospitals, nursing homes, dispensaries, laboratories, clinics, research centres, corporate health units and blood banks. Much of this is plastic.

Though this waste should be treated to render it harmless before any salvage operation this is not always the case. It is reported that close to one Bangalore hospital, ear buds are on sale that have been refashioned from used hospital cotton. Even worse, there have been many instances where used syringes were reused by repacking them and selling them in smaller medical shops.

These events are sadly not uncommon in many parts of the world. The public health implications are profound, and infections resulting from the use of unsafe medical items picked from unsorted clinical wastes must surely be a big problem. Much of this abuse is poverty-driven, though these backdoor operations where untreated wastes slip out directly to the salvage operation, and then slip back in again as supposedly new safe products is driven by greed and corruption.

Waste security is but one solution to a complex problem.

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