Biomedical Waste Affecting Human Health and Environment

Biomedical Waste Affecting Human Health

Biomedical waste is any kind of waste, which is potentially infectious in nature. In hospitals, biomedical waste is generated during diagnosis, treatment or immunization of humans or animals.

According to the World Health Organization, biomedical waste is segregated into the following types:

  • Sharps: Sharp/pointed objects that can pierce or graze the skin, including needles, wires, broken glass, razors, ampules, lancets, scalpels, staples, and trocars.
  • Infectious Waste: Any infectious or potentially infectious waste, including used swabs, gauzes, tissues, excrements, surgical equipment, gloves, lab cultures, blood work, etc.
  • Radioactive Waste: Used/unused radiotherapy liquid or lab research liquid. These wastes also consist of utensils or supplies used to transport or store radioactive material.
  • Pathological Waste: Human bodily fluids, body tissues, biopsy samples, blood samples, carcasses, etc., come under this waste category.
  • Pharmaceutical Waste: Vaccines and drugs which are either used, unused, expired, and/or contaminated. Pharmaceutical waste also encompasses antibiotics, antivirals, injectables, pills, tablets, etc.
  • Chemical Waste: Disinfectants, solvents, batteries, heavy metals and other objects which are present in medical devices or diagnostic tools.
  • Genotoxic Waste: These are considered as one of the most hazardous forms of biomedical waste and are either carcinogenic, teratogenic, or mutagenic in nature. Genotoxic waste also includes cytotoxic drug supplies that are used for treating cancer.

Following are the Major Sources of Biomedical Waste:

  • Hospitals, medical institutions, clinics, and other healthcare facilities
  • Laboratories and medical research centers
  • Morgues, mortuary and autopsy centers
  • Veterinary centers and animal research laboratories
  • Blood banks and other medical collection services
  • Old age homes/ Nursing homes

Need for Biomedical Waste Management

Biomedical waste contains potentially infectious and harmful materials that can inflict undue harm on the hospital’s staff, patients, healthcare workers, doctors and even visitors who are accompanying a patient. Other than that, biomedical wastes may also contain potential hazards like drug-resistant microorganisms which may spread in the surrounding environment.

Probable harms associated with biomedical waste may also include:

  • Injuries inflicted by sharp objects.
  • Toxic exposure from pharmaceutical products, like antibiotics, cytotoxic drugs, and substances such as mercury or dioxins.
  • Chemical burns caused by activities that are used in disinfection, sterilization, and disposal of biomedical waste.
  • Air pollution due to medical waste incineration.
  • Chemical burns caused by exposure to radioactive matter.
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Treatment and disposal of biomedical waste may lead to pathogens and toxic pollutants being released into the environment. This may directly or indirectly lead to potential health and environmental risks.

  • The disposal of untreated biomedical wastes in open grounds or landfills can lead to a plethora of risks including contamination of water, soil, and even air. Therefore, measures for disinfecting the waste should be implemented before it is set out for disposal.
  • The use of chemical disinfectants can also emit chemical substances, which can hamper the environment. Therefore, it is important that these chemicals are disposed of in a manner that is environmentally sound.
  • Inadequate incineration or incineration of unsuitable materials results in the release of pollutants and harmful fumes into the air. Incinerated materials that either contain or are treated with chlorine can generate toxins such as dioxins and furans, which are known carcinogens and will lead to adverse health effects in humans exposed to them for long durations. Incineration of heavy metals or materials like lead, mercury, and cadmium may spread toxic metals in the environment.
  • Alternative waste disposal techniques such as autoclaving, and microwaving are better compared to incineration as they minimize the formation and release of hazardous emissions and chemicals.

Process of Biomedical Waste Disposal

In a nutshell, the management and disposal of biomedical waste start with the collection and segregation of waste products at the source itself. Afterward, the collected and segregated waste is transferred to waste treatment facilities, which engage in the final phases of waste disposal by incorporating techniques like disinfecting, autoclaving, etc. Following are the steps that should be taken for proper disposal and management of  biomedical waste:

Collection and Segregation

It is mandatory to collect and segregate waste at the site of the generation itself to avoid any spillage or risks afterward. Furthermore, it also ensures effective waste disposal. The aim is to keep injurious and infected waste materials separate from the non-contagious waste. For easy segregation, colored biomedical waste containers such as pedal bins and non-chlorinated plastic bags are widely used. Color coding of biomedical waste containers is – yellow, red, blue and black.

The yellow-colored bags are non-chlorinated and are made to carry human or animal tissues, organs, body parts, solid contaminated waste such as cotton, dressing, linens, and others. The red non-chlorinated plastic bags are meant to carry microbiology and biotechnology waste and other laboratory waste products.

They are also used to carry sharps such as needles, glass syringes, etc. that may cause cuts or punctures. The blue non-chlorinated plastic bags carry chemical waste and the black non-chlorinated plastic bags are created to carry waste such as paper, kitchen waste, food, and other non-infectious wastes. It is necessary to train the biomedical waste handlers to ensure proper handling of waste, and avoid injury and accidents. Also, the colored plastic bags should be kept in their respective biomedical bins. 

Biomedical waste management rules

Storage and Transportation

Biomedical waste bin trolleys are used to transport waste from the site of generation to the central storage area and further to the biomedical treatment facility. It is recommended that plastic bins should be tied, labeled and sent for disposal when they are 75% full. There should be less manual handling of these waste bags, in order to avoid injury and infection through needle pricks. It is also very important to avoid close contact with plastic bags or plastic bins during their storage and transportation.


Primarily, there are two steps involved in treating biomedical waste:

Pre-Treatment: To minimize harmful emissions, waste materials made from rubber, plastics, and metals are disinfected before incineration.

Final Disposal: Final disposal is done through incineration, or secured landfilling, or even deep burial. Incineration is done through dry oxidation at high temperatures, thereby vaporizing any moisture and volatile components. This also helps in reducing the volume and weight of the waste. Human, animal waste and dressing material may be easily submitted for incineration.

There are three types of incinerators – single chamber furnaces, double chamber pyrolytic incinerators, and rotary kilns. They are eco-friendly, cost-effective and easy to construct. Also, these incinerators are suitable for healthcare centers and hospitals in rural areas too.

Sheetal group offers a wide range of durable and premium quality biomedical waste containers, made with antibacterial, 100% virgin LLDPE/HDPE material. Apart from waste containers, Sheetal Group also manufactures plastic toilet cisterns that conserve water and ensure the conservation of resources and proper waste disposal in hospitals and medical clinics.