Waste Management: Global Overview
For More, Select a Region
Hospitals generate millions of tons of waste each year. In the past, many hospitals simply dumped all waste streams together, from reception-area trash to operating-room waste, and burned them in incinerators — and this is still common practice in many countries. Yet medical waste incineration is a leading source of dioxin, mercury, lead and other dangerous pollutants that threaten human health and the environment.
What's more, some hospitals and clinics in the developing world discard medical waste with regular trash and risk the spread of diseases among scavenger populations. Discarded needles and syringes may result in the spread of blood borne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis. Others burn their waste in open fields or in small incinerators without pollution control, exposing communities to toxic byproducts and potentially dangerous ash. As health programs expand, the problem of medical waste treatment and disposal in rural areas becomes critical.
Around the world, Health Care Without Harm is working to minimize the amount and toxicity of waste generated by the health care sector, to ensure the proper management and segregation of medical waste, and to eliminate the dangerous practice of incineration by promoting and implementing alternatives.
Medical waste incinerators emit highly toxic byproducts including dioxin, a known carcinogen, and mercury, a potent neurotoxin that can harm the brain, kidneys and lungs. Other pollutants from incineration include acid gases, heavy metals and particulates.
Despite the dangers to health and the environment, many governments, public health agencies, international organizations and transnational corporations continue to promote incineration technology as a waste management "solution."
Fortunately, safer no-burn technologies are available to effectively treat and disinfect medical waste. Health Care Without Harm is collaborating with health care systems, NGOs, governments and international agencies such as the World Health Organization to research and promote environmentally sound and healthy alternatives to medical waste incineration.
For detailed information on this topic, in addition to tools and resources, select your region of the world from the links at the top of this page.
- Alternative Technologies Report (pdf)
- Evaluating Non-Incineration Alternatives (pdf)
- Global Inventory of Alternative Technologies (pdf)
- Hospital Success Stories (pdf)
- Ten Ways to Reduce Regulated Medical Wastes (pdf)
- Waste Audit Self-Assessment (pdf)
A tool created by Hospitals for a Healthy Environment to help health care facilities assess their environmental program's status and develop goals and action plans to reduce waste, eliminate the use of mercury, and reduce other types of health care related pollution.
- Waste Minimization Resources (pdf)
- Waste Minimization, Segregation and Recycling in Hospitals (pdf)
- What's Wrong with Incineration (pdf)