Understanding Non-Hazardous and Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

For those not familiar with the field of health and medicine, the term non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste could trick you into thinking this is not dangerous. However, it has its own negative effects on the environment. But before we go further, let us understand what pharmaceutical waste is and then the difference between hazardous pharmaceutical waste and the non-hazardous type:

Non-Hazardous and Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

What is Pharmaceutical Waste?

When it comes to the health and medical sector, refuse generated from such organizations cannot be disposed of the same way you would collect refuse from a fast-food joint. This is because they deal with highly toxic materials in their day-to-day activities. It can range from collected blood samples, used syringes, waste from surgeries, and so on. Visit here to learn how inadequate disposal methods could cause harm.

Luckily, the pharmaceutical field doesn’t have to worry about most of the above waste types. Those are commonly found in hospitals. Since a pharmacist is responsible for handling drugs, pharmaceutical waste is mostly made up of expired or contaminated and unused drugs.

But they could also include home and personal care products that contain specific chemicals. We are sure by now you can see how unethical it would be to simply drop this waste in a refuse bin. This is why certain measures are taken to properly dispose them. There are two types of pharmaceutical wastes, hazardous and non-hazardous. We are going to briefly look into each of them below.

Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

It is pretty obvious that since we are having this conversation, not all pharmaceutical waste can be moderately harmless for the environment. Therefore, waste is categorized into hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. The RCRA is responsible for dictating how we categorize them.

For waste from a pharmacy to be tagged as hazardous there will be certain properties it contains that make it extremely dangerous to humans and the environment at large. Refuse products in this category are known to be ignitable, corrosive, toxic, and reactive. For better understanding, they are categorized into P, U, K categories, we would explain them below.

1. P class drugs

Drugs that fall into this class are known to be very toxic. It could be a pharmaceutical drug chemical or pesticide and you would often find that they contain arsenic, arsenic trioxide, epinephrine, and cyanide salts.

2. U class drugs

Like the “p class drugs”, U class drugs are very toxic. It could be pharmaceutical, pesticide, or chemical. Waste in this category often contains acetone, acetyl chloride, and azaserine.

3. K class drugs

This type of waste unlike the others are not generated after production, rather they are generated during the manufacturing process.

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Pharmaceutical industry can change its practices to manage pharmaceuticals in a more ecofriendly manner.

Non-Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

As we mentioned in our introduction, because it is called non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste, do not be deceived into thinking they aren’t dangerous if disposed improperly. So long as it has to do with toxic chemicals used in the production of drugs, it must be handled with care.

It is important to note that wastes that fall into this category are also governed by the resource conservation and recovery act (RCRA). This act creates a framework for the proper disposal of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. However, because they’re less toxic than waste that falls into the hazardous class, they are not affected by heavy regulation. But this doesn’t mean that they can be disposed of like regular refuse from home. You still need to enlist the help of professionals for this task.

How to Properly Store and Dispose Pharmaceutical Waste?

Now that we have covered these two waste types, let us look at how you can properly dispose them. We will focus on all types of pharmaceutical waste and not just the non-hazardous type. When it comes to pharmaceutical waste disposal in general, your best bet to do things professionally if you do not already have trained personnel on-site is to employ the use of waste disposal companies. The reason we suggest using companies is that they leave no room for error.

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You should also take proper storage of your pharmaceutical waste seriously. This is because it can be dangerous if it gets tampered with. Therefore, it should be at a secured site. Proper storage would also prevent leakage of waste into the environment. Consider using clinical waste bags. They are easy to distinguish from regular trash because of their very noticeable blue color.

You should opt for cytotoxic and cytostatic bags when making a choice on what waste bag to store your waste. It is also advisable to have a separate trash can in a secure location for your pharmaceutical waste.

Final Thoughts

Improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste and regular waste in general is having widespread negative effects on the environment. Most are washed into the ocean leading to deaths and depletion of marine life. It is our responsibility to ensure that these effects are not only mitigated but all together avoided.

3 Ways to Effectively Manage Your Medical Waste

All of the items that are used in healthcare must be disposed of correctly in a way that is environmentally safe and also responsible. This includes syringes, needles, and expired pills.

There are a lot of used syringes, dirty needles, pharmaceutical waste such as expired or contaminated drugs, and even infectious waste such as blood, used dressings, and bacterial cultures. Of course, all these things pose massive health and contamination risks and if they’re not disposed of properly, they can lead to even bigger health and environmental risks.

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Luckily, we have some information that will undoubtedly help you. Here are three effective ways to manage your medical waste.

1. Correct disposal

Correct disposal means everything when it comes to keeping our environment safe and healthy, which is our priority. Before items are disposed of, they must go through a thorough treatment process to minimise health threats and reduce damage to our environment.

The terms of treatment realistically depend on the facilities, but the most common terms of medical waste treatment are:

  • Steam sterilisation: A great decontamination method that is simple but highly effective. Pressurised steam operates at a high temperature and kills off microorganisms.
  • Mechanical treatment: Grinding/shredding.
  • Chemical treatment: The use of disinfectants.

It is of the utmost importance that all staff are educated on the significance of disposal of medical waste correctly.

2. Develop a plan

Developing a plan could be considered one of the most important things when it comes to the management of medical waste. Every great facility will have an effective and proper plan in place regarding the management of their medical waste. The responsibilities and roles of each member as well as the waste management plan should be laid out as soon as possible with hospitals and will usually be the first thing you learn.

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It is also of great importance that every staff member understands knows how much waste is generated and to what extent it does or does not fluctuate. It is up to the hospital to effectively teach this to their staff.

3. Introduce reusable items

Surprisingly, one of the worst ways to deal with waste items is to dispose of them. The most effective way to avoid waste is to not produce it in the first place. Understandably, waste is unavoidable in some circumstances, however, where possible it should be avoided.

A big way to make a change is to make the switch to reusable products where it is possible. Opting for greener alternatives could make the biggest difference to the environment and hospitals themselves. It is insanely easy to use reusable items in hospitals and it will be a godsend to the environment should hospitals consider reusable items.

In some cases, hospitals already use reusable products but for the sake of patient safety, some things just simply can’t be reusable. For example, any sharps containers and some specific medical instruments can actually be reusable! They will simply need to be sanitised and disinfected before/after each use and voila!

Before buying a product, it is always a good idea to check if it may be reusable. This will not only save money, but it will also save medical waste.

It is important to take care when disposing of your medical waste, see how to do it here.

How to Make the Pharmaceutical Industry More Sustainable

The pharmaceutical industry has a substantial impact on the environment, especially when the materials used to make them and the chemicals that comprise make their way directly into the environment. The pharmaceutical industry at large as well as average consumer can take steps to make of use of medicine more sustainable through both significant and relatively minor changes.

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Medicines and the Environment

The drugs that we consume naturally enter our environment as our body turns them to waste. This issue becomes exacerbated when people intentionally dispose of unused medicine by flushing it down the drain.

Although our water treatment systems are designed to take contaminants out of our wastewater before we re-introduce to the natural environment, some still get through. These contaminants, which include those in medications, can damage the ecosystems they end up in.

High levels of estrogen in waters due to birth control, for example, can hamper the ability of fish to reproduce, reducing their population size. Once those chemicals find their way into the water, they enter the food chain and eventually impact animals that live on land too, including humans.

Plants will absorb the chemicals from medications. Animals then eat these plants or drink the water and ingest the contaminants. Humans might drink the water or eat the plants or animals, making pollution from pharmaceuticals a human health hazard as well. This problem becomes worse in the summer when livestock such as cattle require two to three times as much water as they do during other times of the year.

Proper Disposal of Medicines

If you have unused medications that you need to get rid of, don’t flush them down the drain or throw them straight into the trash. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends one of several other options for the safe and sustainable disposal of medicines.

Some communities have drug take-back programs that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) approves. Some pharmacies also allow you to mail in or dispose of unused medications at kiosks. The DEA also organizes a national drug take-back day.

Although certain medications have recommendations on the label to flush them, you can dispose of the majority of them in your regular trash at home. The FDA recommends mixing them with something unpalatable such as dirt, kitty litter or coffee grounds in a plastic bag that you can seal. This disguises the drugs and prevents pets from getting into them. You can then throw the bag away.

If you are a throwing away a prescription medication container, be sure to scratch out all potentially identifying information to protect your privacy and identity.

Using Medicines More Sustainably

Another option for reducing the impact your use of medicine has on the environment is to use less of it or use more environmentally friendly medications.

To use less medicine, only use it when you truly need it and try substituting natural remedies for pharmaceuticals. Reach for naturally derived treatments such as essential oils, vitamins, herbs or a cup of hot tea. Always consult with your doctor before changing your medication regimen.

As a long-term strategy, regular exercise and a healthy diet can do wonders in improving your overall health and decreasing your need to take medicines.

Sustainability from the Industry’s Perspective

Of course, making the pharmaceutical industry more sustainable isn’t the sole responsibility of the consumer. The industry can also change its practices to manage pharmaceuticals in a more eco-friendly fashion.

One aspect of this involves energy use. The manufacturing and transportation of medications can be extremely energy-intensive. By using energy more efficiently and using cleaner energy, drug companies can reduce their environmental impact.

Pharmaceutical industry can change its practices to manage pharmaceuticals in a more ecofriendly manner.

These corporations can also make an effort to include more eco-friendly substances in their medications. While they may not be able to remove every non-natural chemical from their products, they can offer greener alternatives to consume and look into reducing the presence of damaging substances as much as possible.

This applies not only to the organizations closest to the consumers but to the entire supply chain.

Medications are often vital to our health, but it can also have a negative impact on the health of our environment. Taking steps to manage pharmaceuticals more sustainably can enable us to protect our own well-being as well as that of our environment.