Sustainable healthcare waste management in the EU Circular Economy model

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Despite the healthcare sector's unique healing mission to protect and restore health and save lives, its activities can paradoxically undermine it. The sector generates millions of tonnes of waste worldwide each year, and waste directly or indirectly negatively impacts our environment, health, and well-being in many ways.

Despite the proven negative health and environmental impacts of incineration, many European public health agencies and national governments still require this process as the only safe waste management solution for hospitals’ waste.

The vast majority of waste produced by the healthcare sector (approximately 85%), however, is non-hazardous and similar to domestic waste, so much of it can be easily recycled. If non-hazardous waste is mixed with hazardous waste and not segregated at the point of generation, it must be classified and treated as hazardous medical waste.

In 2020, Health Care Without Harm Europe (HCWH) conducted a survey of its members to better understand waste management practices (autoclaving, microwaving, high temperature, and/or physico-chemical treatment) and challenges (cost and lack of supportive regulation) within European hospitals.

On this basis HCWH has developed a set of global principles for sustainable healthcare waste management.

  1. Towards zero waste
  2.  Phase down incineration
  3. Toxic-free future
  4.  Worker protection
  5. The way forward.

This position paper builds on those principles and focuses on the situation in Europe – particularly with reference to the EU Circular Economy framework.

For more information about HCWH's activities, please click here.