Whether you've recently suffered an injury or illness that has left you recovering at home, or are performing personal care for a parent or other relative with medical needs, you may find yourself regularly disposing of medical or biohazardous waste -- soiled gauze, hypodermic needles, or unused prescription medications. With the stress of being ill (or the sometimes greater stress of caring for someone who is), you may not feel you have the time to educate yourself on waste management practices or do anything more than is needed to simply get through the day. However, improper disposal of biohazardous or other medical waste can potentially harm trash collectors, the public, or even your family.
Read on to learn more about the rules and regulations that apply to the disposal of medical waste management, as well as some steps you can take to ensure you're complying with all applicable laws.
What laws govern the disposal of home health waste?
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act (EPA) prescribes rules, regulations, and laws controlling how all types of waste are disposed of or recycled. Each province is also able to enact complementary laws in accordance with local resources and needs. When it comes to the disposal of home health waste, the rules and laws that are the most important for you to know are those enacted in your city and province -- generally, the EPA only comes into play when home health waste is being transported across province lines for recycling and incineration, and any potential penalties are levied on the companies transporting this waste.
But as a private citizen, you could be fined or subject to other financial penalties if you fail to comply with your city and province's environmental protection laws. Something as seemingly innocuous as a used insulin needle being thrown in the trash could stick a garbage worker, infecting his or her bloodstream with pathogens from elsewhere in your garbage.
If you flush old prescription medication down the toilet rather than disposing of it in a safer way, your actions could contribute to rises in certain levels of drugs in local water supplies. Because most wastewater management facilities don't have the technology to filter out anything but heavy metals and pesticide runoff, the more people who flush blood thinners or narcotics down the drain, the more contaminated the water supply becomes.
How can you ensure you're disposing of health waste safely?
There are a few guidelines that can make it much easier to abide by the applicable laws and regulations.
You should contact your utility providers once you've fallen ill or taken responsibility for the care of a family member. Your trash pickup company likely has information on the recycling and disposal programs used in your city, and may be able to provide you with clearly marked biohazard bags you can use to dispose of soiled gauze or gloves, or hard-sided containers to be used for the disposal of used hypodermic needles in exchange for a small fee.
If you find yourself regularly needing to dispose of excess medication, your wastewater company should be able to point you in the direction of a prescription drug exchange or return service that will accept these medications and keep them out of the water supply. Certain drugs can be safely flushed, but you'll want to ensure that your local wastewater facility has the capacity to process them. And if you or your relative is on a ventilator or other device that requires constant electrical access, it's important that your electric company is aware of this so that emergency access can quickly be restored to your home during a power outage.