Clinical (medical) waste in Saskatoon landfill

Saskatoon is in the middle of nowhere – quite literally, it is located in the most central part of Canada and has few, if any, close neighbours. This makes a particularly good example of the need for self-sufficiency in waste management.

Right now, officials in Saskatoon say they are trying to find out how clinical (medical) waste, including blood bags and blood-soiled bandages, ended up in the Saskatoon landfill. Normally, material that is considered a bio-hazard is incinerated.

Officials said Wednesday that there was no danger to the public but the safety of landfill workers was a concern.

Having raked through several old landfill sites, mainly in Ireland, it is interesting to consider the clinical waste residues that can be recovered. Though swabs, bandages and the like effectively disappear, as does much of the plastic and polypropylene sheet from bags and drapes, gowns etc, syringes, needles bags and tubing and the like, and drug vials, survive almost unchanged even after many years. Test pits inevitably identify a handful of items, whether substantial volumes of clinical wastes had been deposited or not.

In Canada, the finding of blood bags makes it almost certain that the wastes originated from hospitals. However. for much of the remainder, community sources are equally likely and may be the main source. As an increasing number of patients are cared for in their own homes, catheters and other easily identifiable items might well have originated from home treatment.

Perhaps these wastes should be bagged and removed for more appropriate disposal. Against this, most Local Authorities are happy to divert these wastes to the domestic waste stream, instructing patients and their carers to wrap wastes securely and put them into their black waste sacks. It is no surprise therefore that some items may be found in landfill sites, either freshly deposited or identified on later excavation. Over the coming years, more will be found as the care of long-term sick is moved away from hospitals to the patients’ own homes and LAs seek to reduce costs of collection and disposal by diverting waste to domestic.

Now is the time to stop and reverse this trend with more rigid regulation, or accept the principle – do we say accept the ‘problem’ – and go easy when finding a few identifiable clinical waste items in landfill.


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