Recycling is good. Well, it’s almost always good and we should do all we can to promote it, including the recovery for recycling and reuse of material resources from appropriately treated clinical wastes.
In some regions however, the desire for a quick buck – that on occasions can be the difference between life and death for those at the bottom of the chain – results in attempts at materials recovery from clinical wastes without the inconvenience of any treatment to render those wastes safe.
In Lahore, the Environmental Protection Department has started a programme to educate hospital staff about the proper disposal of waste and the hazards of not doing so. A large amount of plastic waste from hospitals – urine and blood bags, syringes and tubes – is sold to manufacturers of plastic cutlery and furniture, without the benefit of any treatment to render it safe, which is both illegal and dangerous to public health.
“There is a mafia of doctors, nurses and sanitary workers across Punjab who resell used plastic items, spreading disease to our homes,” said EPD Deputy Director (technical) Azmat Naz, who heads the training initiative.
That is so true. Repeatedly, we have spoken of the corruption that results in fresh wastes leaving the hospitals’ back door in exchange for cash, to be reprocessed as new medical supplies or other items, and bought back cheaply to provide “profit” for those who engage in this illicit trade at every stage in the process. Sadly, the fate of patients, who may find themselves treated with non-sterile items of used equipment including used dressings, syringes and needles, is not so rosy.
The public health issues are horrendous, while for recovery of plastics and reprocessing as plastic cutlery the risks are different. Dangerous for those working in this trade, the pre-treatment and heating necessary to remould plastics may well be sufficient to remove any risk to end-users. Some of these plastic cutlery products may enter the UK, so for your picnic or that airline meal, it is the aesthetics that is the greater concern.