50 tonnes of medical waste discarded monthly

Hazardous clinical wastes to be disposed. Photo: bioenergyconsult.com
BY SHANIKA ABDULLATIB

More than 50 metric tonnes of pharmaceutical products are collected by hazardous waste management expert Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd every month for disposal.

These products include medicines, syringes, blood bags and tubes, and urine bags from pharmaceutical companies and private hospitals nationwide.

Clinical wastes from government health facilities are handled by another company but sometimes there are requests for Kualiti Alam to handle some of their waste as well. 

Medications sent for disposal are mainly those that have already expired, including prescribed drugs left unused by patients who failed to comply with the medicine intake regimen fixed by their doctor or pharmacist.

It should be noted that the 50 metric tonnes of pharmaceutical wastes generated every month do not include the medicines that are poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet or dumped into the garbage bin by irresponsible patients who are completely unaware that the nation’s sewage plants are incapable of treating chemical waste. 

And, over the years, their actions can cause contamination of the nation’s water channels as the chemical residue from the pharmaceutical products is water-soluble and can endanger aquatic life.

Systematic disposal

Dr Johari Jalil

Dr Johari Jalil, who is managing director of Cenviro Sdn Bhd – the parent company of Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd – said all products arising from the preparation and production of pharmaceuticals must be disposed of systematically and safely.

He said pharmaceutical wastes are classified under the SW 405 code (wastes arising from the preparation and production of pharmaceutical products) and have to be disposed of following the guidelines stated in the Environmental Quality (Scheduled Wastes) Regulations 2005.

“The disposal is carefully undertaken to ensure that the pharmaceutical products such as expired or damaged medicines do not end up in the community as they can be misused,” he told Bernama.

Kualiti Alam owns and operates the only hazardous waste management centre in Malaysia which is located in Bukit Pelanduk, Negeri Sembilan.

Johari said the stringent standard operating procedures for the disposal of scheduled wastes begin on the premises of the waste generators – namely pharmaceutical companies, clinics and hospitals – which can only store scheduled waste generated by them for 180 days or less provided that the quantity of waste accumulated on the site does not exceed 20 metric tonnes.

He said all generators of scheduled wastes are subject to this regulation and they can be fined by the Department of Environment (DOE) if they fail to notify the scheduled waste management services provider to collect their wastes.

“The clinical wastes have to be transported to Kualiti Alam’s waste management centre in special trucks authorised by our company following the standards fixed by DOE,” he said.

The trucks are fitted with a Global Positioning System navigation device to ensure that they do not deviate from the assigned route given the hazardous nature of the load they are carrying.   

Incinerator

Elaborating on the clinical waste disposal process, Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd general manager (operations) Mohd Rizal Zambros said currently, the most effective technique that is used for this purpose is high-tech combustion.  

The incineration plant installed at Kualiti Alam’s integrated hazardous waste management centre in Bukit Pelanduk is equipped with a rotary kiln that serves as the primary combustion chamber with a temperature of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius to ensure the highest possible destruction of the waste.   

This process is followed by a heat recovery system and then an extensive multi-stage flue-gas treatment system.

The rotary kiln is fully computerised and equipped with continuous monitoring systems designed to achieve 99.9 percent destruction of solid or clinical wastes and flue-gas removal efficiency. Emissions from the incineration plant meet the criteria set by Malaysia’s Environmental Quality (Clean Air) Regulations 2014.

In the case of pharmaceutical wastes that come in preparations such as pills, creams and liquids, they are first carefully wrapped and then inserted into a bunker before being placed inside the incinerator’s combustion chamber.

“We burn them directly as clinical wastes from hospitals, clinics and pharmaceutical companies do not undergo much change and their (chemical) ingredients remain stable. It’s not dangerous to expose them to temperatures of between 1,000 and 1,200 degrees Celsius,” explained Mohd Rizal.

He said Kualiti Alam’s waste management centre can handle 76 categories of the 77 scheduled wastes listed by DOE.

Asked about the possibility of Kualiti Alam being tasked with the responsibility of disposing of the Covid-19 vaccine bottles once the vaccination process is adopted on a large-scale in Malaysia this year, Mohd Rizal said he is confident that the company’s facility in Bukit Pelanduk can deal with the waste that will be generated.

“Our facility here can treat and dispose of all types of industrial wastes except wastes generated by radioactive, nuclear and explosive materials,” he added. – Bernama