W2E gasification plants – is there a place for clinical wastes?

There are several, perhaps many, W2E plants popping up. Indeed, with a sometimes indecent hast to capture a slice of the market the number of plants under construction and in planning seems to be in excess of need. Additional feedstocks may make a big difference, though few new waste sources are really available that haven’t been exploited already.

It is a small though nonetheless useful addition to process by W2E conversion the treated floc from ATT processed soft clinical wastes. In reality, and already tested in some island communities where the proposal has been accepted and successfully applied.

The chemical composition of soft clinical wastes is quite permissible for W2E conversion. Moreover, the relatively low risk of the bulk of EWC 18 01 03 clinical wastes is modest except for those coming into direct contact with them, and perhaps then no greater that for the mass of domestic wastes found in the tipping hall of a busy W2E plant, the question is obvious.  Since soft clinical wastes are clearly identified in brightly coloured bags, why not tip these directly to the pit of a W2E plant and reduce or remove the costly process of prior ATT processing and post-process shredding?

Since these wastes can be seen by a grab operator, they can be fed preferentially to the incinerator and without detriment to the process or its emissions. If some small fraction is spilled then the impact is negligible since it will remain in the tip, with many other biohazardous materials from mixed domestic refuse – its impact will be negligible and can be disregarded.

EWC 18 01 04 wastes – those bulk sanitary and offensive wastes might be similarly processed, or perhaps to fibre recovery or AD. that EA are happy to consign to landfill.

Improved and environmentally sound waste processing is supposed to be the rule, and with intentional and quite deliberate down-regulation of many clinical wastes in an attempt more to manipulate an industry rather than protect operators or the environment, the wider use of W2E facilities, for processing of ATT residues or fresh soft wastes seems likely to tick all the practical and scientific boxes. It will not be popular, but the regulatory boxes must change accordingly.

This will have great impact also on the need for and approach to source segregation. In the healthcare environment, I have long supported an elimination of black bags from clinical areas. This ensures a disposal process that is fail-safe and ensures that all wastes are identified properly as potentially hazardous and managed accordingly. As we have discussed many times previously, there is little worse than clinical waste items “lost” within a black bag while the various audits that focus on source segregation, and on which regulators are so keen to rely, focus instead on contamination of clinical wastes with a drinks can, newspaper or apple core. That doesn’t matter, but it has been used to beat waste producers toward more and better source segregation and, as we all know, it just doesn’t work very well.

So, all waste from clinical areas might go into an orange sack. It all gets handled – with care and as one waste stream – in a much more cost-efficient manner. Risk managers will love the implication that 100% of waste is marked as potentially dangerous and handled accordingly, and no more costly claims after injury or exposure to something incorrectly placed into a black sack, and no hassle from the regulators since choice, and error, has been eliminated.

In the community, there is a growing cadre of local authorities who have realised the costs associated with the separate collection of sanitary/offensive wastes and insist now that it is packaged and managed as black bag waste. Massive cost savings accrue and the regulators have been pushed aside as more Authorities change their approach. In these straitened times, who might blame them? Science and practicality are on their side.

Regulators will no longer be able to tick three or four boxes where only one will remain, and no separate tonnages for multiple waste streams each handled separately. Few will mourn a decrease in bureaucracy, while the practical, environmental and other benefits would shine through.


Remember, you read it first on the Clinical Waste Discussion Forum



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