Medical waste (in the form of used sharps) has become the latest difficult-to-recycle recycling program at TerraCycle, as the company continues to add waste streams to its product list. Utilizing EPA-approved sterilization technology, the company has developed a system that provides contaminant exposure protection and high-efficiency material recovery.
The regulated waste division of TerraCycle has created a sharps container and shipping carton system available in a variety of sizes. The puncture-resistant sharps containers are approved for use by both UPS and the US Postal Service when shipped within the corresponding carton. Sizes range from a 1.4-quart container for home use to a commercial 28-gallon system. Like its Zero Waste Box programs, the medwaste boxes are postage-prepaid—the customer simply fills the sharps container, boxes it and calls UPS or USPS for a pickup.
"This is an exciting addition to the regulated waste offerings at TerraCycle," explains Bobby Farris, General Manager of TerraCycle Regulated Waste, "We're providing a real alternative to incineration for medwaste customers who want to see the materials recycled."
According to the World Health Organization, as much as 90% of all medical waste is incinerated, even though only 15% of it is actually considered biologically hazardous. Originally, it was thought that destroying medical waste through incineration destroyed the known pathogens, but more recent science suggests the process exposes the environment to potential contaminants in the form of microscopic particulate emitted in the process exhaust. Furthermore, the resulting ash and byproducts are not easily recouped for recycling or reuse and are often landfilled.
To protect the population and environment, the EPA has begun to promote the use of "Alternative Treatment and Disposal Technologies for Medical Waste." By utilizing commercial steam disinfection (autoclave) of medical waste and then processing the sharps to separate metals, plastics and glass, TerraCycle is able to reclaim valuable materials and divert waste from the landfill. The system provides better, more measurable elimination of biohazards and lessens the linear use of resources.