We Change the Way We Treat Medical Waste during an Epidemic. Why?

Naturally, hospitals eventually become the epicentre of every epidemic.

While there may be physical hotspots where a virus is most active, those with contagious symptoms will be transported to medical facilities for treatment creating an almost “false” virus epicentre.

While there may be physical hotspots where a virus is most active, those with contagious symptoms will be transported to medical facilities for treatment creating an almost “false” virus epicentre.

As such, during an epidemic, we become much stricter when it comes to medical waste management. Medical facilities may even put new protocols in place to further protect people and workers, as well as harshen the existing rules surrounding medical waste.

This isn’t because our standards aren’t good enough pre-epidemic. Change is a result of heightened risk and infection.

A great example is face masks that during an epidemic may be classified as clinical waste. Under normal circumstances, face masks are deemed non-hazardous as they aren’t in the same league as sharps which penetrate the body and become contaminated with bodily fluids. However, when there’s a highly contagious virus in the environment, face masks may move up the ladder in a bid to slow down the spread of germs.

We’re finding that a lot of our customers are increasing their use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and as a result have a need for new or additional Clinical Waste solutions on-site. These include:

  • Bins, bags and boxes for PPE disposal
  • Hand-washing sanitiser stations
  • Social distancing and other hygiene-related signage
  • Office, premises and vehicle sterilisation

Read on to find out more about how we change the way we treat medical waste during an epidemic.

What Is an Epidemic?

An epidemic is an infectious disease or virus that has become widespread across a community. An epidemic could, in theory, be spread across an entire nation or continent. An epidemic is only re-classified as a pandemic if it reaches worldwide proportions.

In this sense, every pandemic starts as an epidemic.

For example, when coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, China we classified this disease as an epidemic. The virus was then announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). This governing body is responsible for defining each stage of all global outbreaks, taking into account the rate of infection and the geographical spread.

The term epidemic can also be used to describe a trend that has materialised at a fast rate. In turn, this explains the nature of an epidemic where a disease spreads quickly amongst a group of people.

As well as the term pandemic, the words “outbreak” and “endemic” might be used in similar scenarios. While an outbreak could be the very start of an epidemic where something spreads much faster than experts first thought, an endemic is an infectious spread that is contained in one country or amongst a particular group of people. All of these terms indicate a level of infectious risk with outbreak being the most minor and pandemic being the most severe form of spread.

An epidemic won’t always reach pandemic proportions. For example, Ebola was technically an outbreak or an epidemic since the disease was contained in West Africa.

These terms are important because they give reference to the level of risk present and create a scale that works for organisations.

From cutting-edge research companies in the midst of clinical trials right through to customer-facing community health organisations on the front line.
So whatever your requirements, Axil can help you to get back to what matters most – making a difference.
Find out more about our Total Waste Management solutions here

How Do Viruses Relate to Waste Management?

Waste management inevitably becomes much stricter during a widespread outbreak.

The principles of waste management remain the same, encompassing things like resource efficiency, energy recovery, and lifecycle management.

However, preventing the spread of the virus — rises to the top of the list. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria making them invisible to the naked eye and very easy to spread. That’s why disinfectants are applied like clockwork and precautionary measures like changing the items we class as hazardous are necessary to employ.

With this said, you might hear companies, collection agencies, and waste management providers talk more about keeping environments sanitary, the importance of waste segregation, and signage during an epidemic.

5 Things We Change during an Epidemic

So, how exactly do waste management practices get stricter? There are five key things that responsible waste management practices employ, specifically in medical environments.

1. Reclassification of waste

This is where the guidelines on clinical waste may be altered to err on the side of caution. Items used as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) — like face masks — are generally considered to be contaminated. There is further information on waste classification available on the government website.

2. Waste segregation

We classify things in order to segregate them. Segregation helps to direct trash to the correct waste disposal route, as well as protect people from coming into contact with contaminated items. During an epidemic, avoiding contamination is key. Waste segregation is a constant but is put on high-alert during something like an epidemic.

3. Provision of suitable bins

To be able to segregate waste at the source, hospitals and other medical facilities need to have access to a range of waste disposal units and bins. The most characteristic being a bin for infectious waste. The contents of infectious waste are sent to an incinerator or undergo steam sterilisation. Items like sharps and face masks belong in this waste bin, which has yellow or orange bags to make them easily identifiable. Anatomical waste — something derived directly from the human body like an amputated limb — is also included in this waste category, even if it’s not suspected to be an infectious item such as a placenta after birth.

Other types of waste include:

  • • Cytotoxic and cytostatic waste — Collected in a purple liner, this is a form of hazardous waste that undergoes the same sterilisation or incineration process. As its name suggests, cytotoxic waste is anything that is deemed toxic — usually medicines in liquid or tablet form.
  • • Offensive waste — As we move down the tier, we come to a non-hazardous waste that could still present a risk to others if direct contact occurred. This waste is hygiene-related and includes things like outer dressings and incontinence pads. Offensive waste is collected in a yellow liner with black stripes. Masks, gowns and gloves normally fall under this bracket but during an epidemic are likely to be treated as hazardous, infectious waste.
  • • General waste — Black liners and general recycling tubs are also used throughout facilities to collect non-specialist waste. Things like packaging and waste paper end up here.

During an epidemic, the volume of infectious waste is likely to increase, meaning monitoring and collection should be at a higher frequency than usual.

4. Strict signage

Once medical facilities have the correct provisions, the effort of waste providers mustn’t stop there. Education on how to use each waste bin is just as important, ensuring that the equipment is used correctly. Staff, volunteers and the public should all be exposed to prominent signage to make this process simple. Signage should be easy-to-read, as well as placed in the designated waste disposal areas. While hospitals will always display such signage, during an epidemic, signs should be plentiful and eye-catching to stress the heightened importance of correct waste disposal.

5. Situational decision-making

In healthcare, waste practices are generally quite uniform in the interest of keeping waste management easy for everybody to follow. This makes everything from staff training to public awareness simpler to digest and deploy across the country. However, in the case of an epidemic, high-alert and low-alert labels start to form calling for more stringent waste practices in purpose-built hospitals and high-capacity facilities.

How a Waste Partner Can Help

All medical and research facilities will employ the help of a waste service that can take care of the waste collection.

However, during something as serious as an epidemic, medical facilities will require more than someone to simply pick up their waste. They need expert advice on changing government guidance, equipment supply to aid with the reclassification of waste, on-site staff that can help to segregate waste correctly, and spread this message across a team and strict organisation of waste including revised designated areas and updated signage.

A waste partner does all of these things, effectively taking care of your waste from conception to disposal. This process is called total waste management where waste companies shift from working for you to working with you.

Thinking of partnering up? Request a medical waste audit to determine the level of support that you need. One of our waste experts will get in touch with you to discuss a tailored solution.

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