Increasing scrutiny is being leveled at companies across all industries in regards to their environmental performance, but it’s a common fear that the price of doing right by the environment will be a steep one financially. This has historically been the case in the healthcare industry, as much as in any other. However, recent developments in both recycling techniques, and changes in processes made by recycling companies, have made the ethical disposal of waste more easy, efficient and affordable.
The bad old days
While efficient recycling of waste has long been pushed as a goal for both businesses and individual citizens; by policymakers, pressure groups, and society as a whole, it’s only recently that doing so was a viable option. Not only have prices been extortionately high in the past, but recycling facilities were once rare and inefficiently equipped compared to their modern counterparts.
The techniques utilized were underdeveloped and less efficient; and facilities were underused by the public: just 7.5 percent of household waste was recycled in the UK during 1995. In isolation that figure may not be so surprising, but the figure, as of May 2013, had grown to 43 percent; indicating massive growth.
Inefficiency comes in many guises. However, especially when it comes to recycling, if materials aren’t dealt with in the correct manner it can lead to all sorts of complications down the line. Therefore, when companies seek to cut costs, and are resultantly unwilling to ask too many harsh questions of those they pay to do so, the results can be damaging to both the environment, and in extreme cases, human lives.
A glaring example of this was uncovered in 2003, when a Daily Mail report uncovered the illegal dumping of NHS e-waste in Ghana. E-waste from Western countries is dropped en-masse into landfills in Ghana, as well as other developing, or less environmentally regulated countries, while the organizations believe that it’s being disposed of ethically. This is then picked apart by locals to whom the scavenging is their sole, desperate source of income.
In the case of the e-waste dumping grounds in Ghana, children are left to sort through the often dangerous components, risking injury or death. Such unappealing conditions are further worsened by the techniques which the children utilize to extract components that are of value; plastic tubing is burned away to reach copper wiring, releasing dangerous chemicals, while cathode ray tubes and glass are haphazardly smashed to reach more lucrative resources.
Needless to say, many of the scavengers at these dumping-sites are in extremely ill-health. In the same way, the environmental impact of various hydrocarbons and heavy metals being absorbed by the ground, leeching through to water supplies or releasing harmful by-products into the air when burned, is similarly horrific.
This underlines the point that, while improvements have been made in recycling efficiency, availability, and affordability; all of this progress is moot if corners are cut in the process. If hazardous waste isn’t disposed of correctly, or responsibly, by healthcare providers, the environment, and countless disadvantaged people, will pay an unimaginable price.
Modern efficiency and responsibility has affected the recycling industry in a number of exciting ways, safe-guarding the environment while having a dramatically less negative effect on the finances of businesses; all while remaining ethically sound. This is no different in the medical industry; a particularly effective example of this took place in 2012 after the NHS trust in Bath utilized the services of waste management company Betts Envirometal.
The NHS Trust in Bath found themselves needing to dispose of 75,000 expired medical X-rays, which were taking up three whole rooms of expensive, rented offsite storage space. The methods utilized by Betts ensured that the X-ray film and related storage paraphernalia could be easily broken down to their constituent parts, all while retaining valuable materials.
What many people outside the industry remain unaware of is just what materials constitute X-ray film; silver is an essential ingredient in their construction. Betts Envirometal extremely efficient recycling techniques put this knowledge to good use; a significant amount of silver can be recovered from large-scale X-ray film recycling. Many recycling firms offer rebates when precious metals or valuable materials are recovered during the process, making the submission of large quantities of waste a potentially lucrative prospect for companies.
As Betts is one of the recycling firms to offer such rebates, the Bath NHS trust ended up benefiting from the disposal of the X-ray film, to the tune of £4,499. Combined with a saving of £17,500 in storage costs, the Bath NHS trust ultimately made nearly £22,000, while remaining compliant to environmental policy, and doing their bit to help the planet.
Encouraging fiscal and environmental responsibility
Through their efficiency and rebate schemes, modern waste disposal companies like Betts are paving the way for a better world; medical businesses can now benefit alongside the environment when it comes to the responsible disposal of waste.