Jackie Thompson


As the population grows, so does the production of bio-hazardous waste, and official statistics paint a stark picture of the challenge. According to the World Health Organization, 16 billion needles are disposed of every year. Alongside the countless other types of bio-hazardous waste, this is quickly becoming a trash pile to which a solution is required. As with many other aspects of waste management, technology is helping to transform the tricky task of managing bio-waste, and new materials are providing particularly strong inspiration.

Neutralization of Waste
The main issue with bio-hazardous waste is that it can’t be stored in the normal fashion. In both the disposal and landfill stage of removing large amounts of bio-waste, the potential for contamination is high enough that specific statutes are in place to ensure of its safe disposal. The penalties for not following regulations are often high; in November ‘18, a Tampa medical facility received huge fines for incorrect handling. Hospitals deal with hazardous waste on the spot; they enable patients to remain healthy by professionally cleaning every nook and cranny in the facility, using new technology to fight bacteria, viruses and other causes of disease. New technology is applying this to bio-waste – using water membranes, a new material discovered by Nanyang Technological University can help to remove 90% of contaminants in water waste. This gives rise to the prospect of washing bio-hazardous waste in order to process it for regular handling.

Conversion to Recycling
The advent of plastics and high-grade metal alloys has allowed a level of assurance for patients previously unheard of. However, many of these implements are bio-hazardous by nature and do not lend themselves to recycling. Consequently, they become a waste management problem, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. Like the filtering membranes deployed for water waste, new materials are helping to address this issue. Most notably, new processes are helping to repurpose these devices as building materials. Like ‘eco bricks’ — plastic bottles stuffed with waste and used in small construction – the re-use of bio-hazardous waste can help to build the structures of the future.

Awareness Over Materials
As well as innovating new materials, many medical bodies are now encouraging medical professionals to re-assess their use habits. The Environmental Magazine recently reported on this, noting that many professionals can do more to separate their waste, and also do more to make better use of the resources at hand. As with all waste types, the best way to effect a serious reduction of medical waste is to prevent its production in the first place. New materials help to reduce the impact of waste and to create new ways of storing and processing it in the future; however, the best option is to not create that waste at all.

Biological waste is some of the most tricky to properly store and manage. The high stakes attached to any issues it contends with make it a headache for many planners. Through building awareness over resource scarcity and implementing new material science in medical and biological waste, the challenge can be tackled head on.