What is it, and why is it a problem? Medical pollution is characterized as the disposal of, "bodily fluids, gross tissues, and sharps that possess pathogens that cause disease. Contamination or leaks of medical waste in human habitat can also cause disease," (U.S. BioClean, 2019). This is a complex, global problem because as the healthcare system advances, so does the waste produced. "In 2010, an estimated 5.9 million tons of waste were produced in hospitals," (U.S. BioClean, 2019) and it has been drastically on the rise since.
Medical Pollution During Covid-19:
Single use plastics have begun even more prevalent during Covid-19 such as disposable masks to help prevent the spread of virus, "In 2018, a survey conducted across four Mayo Clinic locations across the United States found that single-use plastics made up at least 20% of medical waste generated in US hospitals," (BBC, 2020). That number has become even higher in the pandemic, and definitely needs to be lowered. When using disposable masks, it is crucial you cut off the straps of the masks before throwing away. If not, they can easily find their way into the environment, and become dangerous for the wildlife.
Fixing the single-use Plastic crisis: To aid in the fix of the problem, reducing the use of single-use plastics. "Single-use disposables are perceived to cost less upfront, than supplies which need to be maintained carefully to prevent infection and early wear and tear. But in the longer term, there is a high cost to constantly replacing devices. Neurosurgeons at one Canadian hospital, for example, cut their costs by CA$750,000 ($570,000/£430,000) by reducing use of disposables by 30%," (BBC, 2020).
Easy ways we can help: Some ways that we as individuals can help is reduce the use of single use medical items such as disposable masks and gloves, plastic packaged medical products, etc. We can invest in cloth, washable masks, reusable gloves, less plastic packaged medical materials in our average first aid kits, etc. Additionally, make sure that if we have any leftover medications, we do NOT flush them down the toilet! This ends up in our waterways and can kill, or severely harm the aquatic life who is forced to ingest it. Instead, make sure before you dispose of any medical product or medication, you are doing your research on the best way to get rid of them.
Additionally, the incineration of medical waste in non-safe ways lead to air pollution that can lead to medical issues in humans and animals, water pollution by the spill of dangerous fluids, wildlife and forest pollution, etc. We need to hold labs, medical facilities, and other medical waste producers accountable for the pollution they produce, and make certain that they are going about the disposal in environmentally friendly and sustainable ways. We need to have government enacted protections that specifically apply to medical pollution as well. There is only so much we can do as citizens if the large companies do not decide to take a stand on the dangerous pollution rates still happening.
Airlina, I. (2020). 5 Ways of Treating Medical Waste . https://www.biomedicalwastesolutions.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/medical-waste-disposal-definitive-guide-infographic2.jpg.webp.
Health-care waste. (2018, February 8). https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/health-care-waste.
Medical Waste Pollution in the U.S.: US Bio. (2019, April 5). https://usbioclean.com/medical-waste-pollution-u-s/.
Ngo, H. (2020, August 13). How do you fix healthcare's medical waste problem? https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200813-the-hidden-harm-of-medical-plastic-waste-and-pollution.