A Green Solution for Good Health & Good Environmental Management

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One of the biggest positives for health care at home has also long been one of the biggest negatives for the environment.  Approximately nine million people in the United States self-inject at home or other places outside of healthcare facilities to treat diabetes, allergies, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, and other medical conditions.   Such treatment is safe, efficient and effective – but it also creates an estimated three billion used needles and syringes each year that must be disposed of properly to avoid needlestick hazards from disease-causing pathogens that these medical “sharps” may carry.

Disposal Problem

While medical waste disposal at hospitals and other healthcare facilities is highly regulated, consumer waste disposal has been largely unregulated.  We as a country restrict the disposal of car batteries, oil and tires but not used syringes and needles, which if stuck could cause life- threatening illnesses.  The health risks and resulting economic costs of improper medical waste disposal are immense, from needles and syringes washing up on resort area beaches and possibly creating needlesticks, to needlestick injuries that can expose housekeeping or sanitation workers to risk of infection.

There is another, equally serious environmental concern regarding medical sharps.  There is no national standard on sharps disposal by self-injectors. Until 2004, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advised home-injectors to put syringes into plastic bottles and dispose of them in the household trash, although updated EPA guidance recommended solutions such as using government-approved systems to mail sharps for proper disposal, or physically taking used sharps to approved disposal centers.  Seven states have laws or regulations restricting consumer disposal of sharps and even states without laws provide guidance against placing sharps into trash disposal.  Yet the fact remains that much consumer generated sharps waste ends up in overburdened landfills, where they add to waste volume while being potential sources of needlesticks and of toxins that leach into the soil.

Disposal Alternative

Now there is an environmentally sound answer for the safe disposal of consumer generated needles and syringes.  Sharps Compliance Corp. has invented a revolutionary new system to recycle medical waste into new products. The patent-pending invention offers a method for converting used needles, syringes and other sharps, into a new product called PELLA-DRX™ – clean, compact pellets that are a raw material used in the manufacture of industrial resources, vital to everything from homes to highways and high-rise buildings. PELLA-DRX™ is ideally suited for energy intensive industries such as cement, lime, steel and power plants.

None of the medical waste used for PELLA-DRX™ goes to a landfill. Instead it is repurposed into a raw material that becomes part of a new product.  This innovative conversion approach turns medical waste into a sustainable resource.  The key is that PELLA-DRX™ is not just a product; it is part of a comprehensive, three-step green processing system:

  1. Sharps receives medical waste via the proprietary Sharps® Product Recovery System™.  The system consists of government-approved containers in various sizes and return packaging with pre-paid postage. These packages of medical waste are sent via the U.S. Postal Service to a treatment facility. 
  2. All medical waste received is disinfected with extremely high pressure and temperature in a process called autoclaving, to destroy any disease pathogens.   The autoclave process is much like the system that hospitals use to disinfect surgical instruments, and it destroys all disease pathogens in the medical waste. The entire process is strictly regulated to ensure that it is thorough, and its extremely high temperatures eliminate any risk of infection.
  3. This material is shredded, quality-checked and compressed into clean, compact PELLA-DRX™ pellets in which medical waste is rendered unidentifiable – and kept out of landfills.

Sharps Compliance is the first company to partner with the U.S. Postal Service to allow self-injecting individuals to send sharps by mail to a compliance facility where it is autoclaved, sterilized and shredded, vastly reducing the volume of waste sent to local landfills.  Other medical waste providers simply collect medical waste, clean and dump all of it into overburdened landfills—with no volume reduction.  Moreover, many conventional means of recycling this waste require an expensive step of separating the material into components, especially metals, before it can then be processed, a cost disincentive that until now has made recycling less attractive.  The PELLA-DRX™ process allows sharps to be autoclaved and shredded as sterilized medical waste without sorting, then compressed into pellets that render the origin of the material indistinguishable and reduces hazards and liabilities from medical sharps. 

Disposal Solution

The disposal of used medical waste presents major, interrelated concerns for American society.  The nation’s landfills are approaching the saturation point and pose major environmental risks through leaching that healthcare waste disposal could worsen.  At the same time, the generation of regulated medical waste creates staggering amounts of material that must be properly disposed of to avoid the possible risk of infectious disease.  This new recycling technology completely eliminates the disposal dilemma that could cause such costly health accidents.  Every step is cost-effective, energy efficient and environmentally responsible, shaping a win-win environmental solution.  It creates useful products rather than harmful by-products, applying clean technology to eliminate landfill disposal of processed medical waste that will exist so long as people get ill – but that no longer has to be an environmental health issue.

The PELLA-DRX™ process is widely applicable.  No matter what the mix of used and regulated healthcare materials, it can convert the used and regulated medical waste generated anywhere, by anyone.  With the federal government poised to dramatically expand spending on health care initiatives, the PELLA-DRX™ recycling process has the potential to transform American society by addressing these major problems that affect the lives of all Americans.

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Dr. Burton J. Kunik is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sharps Compliance Corp., a leading provider of cost-effective disposal solutions for medical and pharmaceutical waste generated outside the hospital setting.