Even in a world of constant alarming news, here are a few stats that still seem startling:
- The US spends 1.13 trillion per year on hospital care.
- Pharmaceutical sales crested $333 billion in 2016.
- In 2018, all registered US hospitals logged 35 million admissions.
Millions, billions, trillions — these are huge numbers, and they indicate how vast and unwieldy the system of healthcare is in the US. At $10,348 per person, the US shells out more money on healthcare than any other country in the world. The next biggest spender, Switzerland, puts up $7,919 per person. The UK spends $4,192. (The global average is $5,169.) All that money, in part, pays for the tremendous inventory that supplies the healthcare industry. But once it’s used, where does that inventory go? Here’s just a partial look at all the waste that a hospital or doctor’s office generates:
- Medical Waste
Think of all the nurses making rounds, the orderlies cleaning patients, the surgeons performing transplants every day in the US. Think how many gloves, lancets, forceps, gurneys, IV tubes, and countless other items get used and replaced so that the hospital maintains its antiseptic standards. Now multiply that by the 5,500+ hospitals this country has, and you’ll get some appreciation for the sheer mass of medical waste that the US sloughs out.
- Pharmaceutical Waste
You read the $333 billion stat above, but the true breadth of Big Pharma’s portfolio is staggering. The total revenue of the pharmaceutical market is $1.05 trillion, worldwide. About half that revenue ($515 billion) comes from the US and Canada. Imagine, then, how many pills and drugs show up in US medical facilities. More on this later.
- Medical Records
Almost anyone who’s encountered medical records has probably been astonished at how just one case can generate shelves of three-ring binders. We’re talking thousands of pages. Considering that there are roughly 894,574 staffed beds in all the hospitals throughout the US, you can imagine how libraries of med recs seem to auto-generate on their own.
All that medical waste, pharmaceutical waste, and medical records need to be destroyed one day, and we’re the people who do it. Here’s how.
1. Medical Waste
Our business divides into two operations: Southern Medical and Tiger Shredding. Southern Medical specializes in medical waste management. Tiger Shredding handles paper shredding and hard drive destruction. Let’s start with Southern Medical.
If you were given unfettered access to wander through the wings of any given medical facility, these are just some of the sights you might chance upon:
- Doctors stripping off latex gloves and dropping them in the trash.
- Phlebotomists taking blood samples and throwing away the syringe.
- RNs cleaning maggots out of a blackened foot and reapplying the bandages.
The reality of the jobs that the army of RNs and CNAs in the US do includes cleaning vomit, applying enemas, swabbing wounds, cleaning up GI bleeds, and even dropping amputated limbs into boxes in the OR. All that’s got to be cleaned up, and when it does, here’s just some of the trash produced:
- IV tubes
- Glass vials
- Razor blades
- Petri dishes and cultures
- Organs and other body parts
- Bloody dressings and bandages
- Surgeons’ masks, admin paperwork, and lots and lots of wadded-up paper towels.
If that listicle seems stomach-churning, we can thank the good people in healthcare for collecting all this waste, bagging it up, and leaving it to us to destroy or recycle.
2. Pharmaceutical Waste
To dispose of biowaste, it’s important to perfect the art of waste segregation. What’s that, you ask? The process of separating different categories of waste so that the contaminants don’t contaminate each other, in a sense. You wouldn’t dispose of an ultrasound monitor the same way you would a colostomy bag. Material that’s toxic, corrosive, or flammable should be sorted together so they’re destroyed in the most effective manner.
Pharmaceutical waste is usually segregated into its own category of medical waste, and it includes outdated, recalled, or expired drugs, and material that’s cytotoxic (toxic to living cells). Only 5-10% of pharmaceutical waste is hazardous, but some of the medications deemed hazardous include Warfarin (prescribed to prevent blood clots) and Physostigmine (used for glaucoma), and treatments that are chemotherapeutic (they fight cancer). Observing industry standards, Southern Medical generally incinerates hazardous pharmaceuticals.
3. Medical Records Disposal
A hospital is a veritable factory of medical records. The amount of time that hospitals are required to keep their records varies by state, but as a general rule, that timeframe is about 5-10 years. That may seem like a while, but it adds up quickly. The sheer mass of paperwork building in each hospital requires a whole branch of staffers to print, scan, bate-stamp, divide and tab all those pages and organize them in offices or records rooms or storage units.
Now add to that database of binders all the other Office Space miscellany that result as byproducts of those records: CDs, USB drives, manila folders, banker’s boxes. The numbers are staggering. Tiger Waste recycles 6.1 million pounds of paper a year. We follow NAID (National Association for Information Destruction) guidelines for proper paper destruction, and our basic process is simple: Collect. Secure. Shred. Recycle. Repeat.
We get it — hospitals are headaches. They’re sprawling, expensive, cumbersome operations. Running that operation smoothly means making sure that the waste your facility produces gets picked up and destroyed or recycled timely so that you can focus on the big-picture challenges of your business. These days, the news seems filled with alarming headlines, but at least we can ensure that our medical waste management never becomes one of them.