As infection rates from the Covid-19 pandemic begin to decline in some countries, the long-term effects of its impact are now becoming clearer.
In the wake of rising death rates, tough hits to the economy, and disruptions to our daily routines, the virus has also highlighted the limited capacity of hospitals and also highlighted the many shortcomings of our health systems.
Covid-19 has resulted in a significant increase in both the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the amount discarded. Estimates show that overall we are using around 129 billion face masks and 65 billion gloves monthly.
Everywhere, waste linked to the coronavirus could be thrown in urban and coastal areas. Much of the medical equipment used by hospitals and clinics is single-use, which burdens disposal sites and storage facilities with empty vials, needles, latex gloves and single-use masks.
Although Covid-19 may eventually dissipate, plastic waste from protective gear and vaccine equipment will stay much longer, perhaps even always.
The Covid-19 litter that once protected humans from disease transmission traps, entangles and endangers wildlife. A marine animal can become entangled, which death by suffocation or drowning.
With the emergence of new variants of Covid-19, medical waste management is expected to continue to play a crucial role in its impact on the environment.
Fortunately, an Israeli invention tackles the increase in medical waste.
the Bewitched 80 is an on-site machine that reduces medical waste into a safe, disposable with municipal waste and environmentally friendly product.
Giving meaning to medical waste
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines medical waste as all forms of waste generated by healthcare facilities; about 20% of it is considered infectious and dangerous.
Hazardous waste can take many forms. Infectious waste is contaminated with bodily fluids while pathological waste can contain organs, tissues or parts of the body. Sharp waste refers to needles, blades and similar equipment. Pharmaceutical waste includes expired or contaminated drugs as well as unused vaccines.
If neglected or mismanaged, these various forms of medical waste can directly cause infections, including HIV and hepatitis A, B and C.
Disposal of medical waste is neither profitable nor sustainable. The need to properly transport, store and dispose of medical waste is labor intensive and expensive.
Compared to most developed countries, Israel lags quite a bit behind when it comes to household medical waste collection. Over 85% of drugs publicly accumulated and disposed of at home are either thrown in the toilet or sink or thrown in garbage which will eventually be transferred to landfills where the active substances of the drugs could seep into the groundwater. In addition, drug residues can contaminate purified wastewater used for agricultural irrigation.
These environmental risks have disastrous consequences for the health of humans and animals. With the potential to contaminate water reservoirs and aquifers that provide drinking water, pharmaceutical compounds contaminate all kinds of ecological systems.
Insufficient training, low public awareness and a lack of effective regulations and legislation are some of the reasons that prevent Israel from improving its waste management. With the increase in medical waste, the need for a comprehensive and effective solution becomes urgent.
The environmental detriment of improper disposal
Studies show a increase in the amount of packaging waste by nearly 20% from pre-pandemic levels due to widespread lockdowns.
This âhomeâ waste of used masks, gloves and protective equipment is considered medical waste because it can allow the transmission of bodily fluids and even Covid-19 viral particles via its surfaces.
Given the disproportionate amount of marine pollution from land-based sources, researchers fear that surgical masks, medical gowns, face shields, safety glasses, protective aprons, disinfectant containers, shoes and gloves additional discarded plastic resulting from the current coronavirus pandemic could end up in our aquatic ecosystems, thus aggravating the existing marine pollution.
A safe and sustainable solution
Israeli company Maabarot Metal Works developed the Summoned 80 to provide a sustainable solution capable of sorting, separating and storing medical waste.
In less than 20 minutes, an Envomed 80 processes up to 250 kilograms (2,220 liters) of waste per nine hour shift, serving nearly 350 hospital beds.
âWe were looking for an area where technical solutions are scarce. We came across the treatment of infectious or medical waste, and after exploring this market, we identified two problems â, explains David Segev, CEO of Envomed.
âThe first was that there is no on-site treatment; everything is done offsite, which makes no sense. The second thing is that offsite processing mostly involves incinerators, which is horrible. When we re-explored the market, we found that hospitals do not treat on site because there is no adequate alternative.
The original solutions were mainly heat treatment technologies – autoclaves. The problem is that “infectious waste carries both liquid and solid phases, which autoclaves cannot process,” Segev explained.
âThe challenge was to find a valid process for solid and liquid waste. Even so, each waste stream has different materials, so there’s really no way of knowing exactly what goes through the machine each time. Additionally, hospitals are highly regulated institutes that do not like uncertainty. We needed to design a solution that would have repetitive and valid infectious waste sterilization results for both solids and liquids. “
Shreds and sterilizes
Envomed 80 shreds the waste first, reducing the volume by up to 80% before completely sterilizing the collected materials for STAATT (State and Territorial Association for Alternative Treatment Technologies) Level IV.
âOur machine uses a strong oxidizer, so the efficiency is high. Once the activation step has agitated the shredded waste with the sterilizing agent, the result is both solids and liquids. From there we have a liquid and solid separator where the liquid will go directly to the wastewater, because at this point it will dissolve in water, oxygen and acetic acid, so it is completely environmentally friendly. The solid product will then be dried, leaving municipal waste in the form of confetti, âexplains Segev.
During the sterilization stage, the materials undergo rigorous agitation using a powerful oxidant combining peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide. It can attack all cell components, like proteins and enzymes, to fight bacterial spores.
By not leaving any living pathogens behind, Envomed 80 eliminates the need for offsite management, bringing with it the assurance of safety and hygiene in healthcare facilities, Segev explains.
Envomed started pilots in Asia Pacific and European countries with ongoing installations in Israel with Clalit Health Services, one of the largest HMOs in Israel.
âWe have machines at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva, and we are installing more at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva,â says Segev.
âThere are also a few installations in Scandinavia. Installing our machines in these locations is relatively easy for us as they are all countries that are sustainable enough that they can appreciate our technology.
While current waste management practices and regulations are suitable for offsite solutions, Segev believes that Envomed has the potential to pave the way for other waste management initiatives as facilities proliferate.
âIf you have good technology, it doesn’t make sense to process [waste] Offsite. It makes more sense to process it immediately where it was generated.
One step forward
âWe have seen in Israel that the amount of waste is increasing enormously, especially because of Covid-19,â says Segev.
âWhen you have an instrument on site, it’s really helpful in preventing waste build-up. Especially during the pandemic, there is no daily waste collection service, so the piles of waste become very dangerous. When you have the instrument on site, you are not liable for the collection services, so there is a closure in knowing how the waste is handled.
However, Envomed 80 alone cannot repair the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the medical waste problem it has exacerbated.
âWe have to go even further,â says Segev. âIn Israel now, municipal-grade waste ends up in landfills. We try to take things to a higher level by recycling them. Let’s take the waste and make it something.
Adopting technology like Envomed 80 and encouraging more environmentally friendly energy consumption and waste management is a recipe for a happier, healthier and safer future.
It is crucial that the management of medical waste be prioritized to prevent the spread of disease, maintain human hygiene and protect all forms of life on our planet, especially during the transition from a global pandemic to a state of normalcy. .
Rena Lenchitz writes for ZAVIT – Science and Environment press agency