Tackling Clinical Waste for a Greener Future

Proper medical waste disposal forms an essential part of any clinical trial. It’s not just a matter of regulatory compliance—it’s a critical component for ensuring patient safety, environmental protection, and public health. From the disposal of sharps and pharmaceuticals to the handling of hazardous materials, each step in the waste management process must be meticulously planned and executed. The repercussions of improper disposal are far-reaching, potentially leading to environmental contamination, the spread of infection, and significant health risks for both medical personnel and the general public.

Understanding and implementing effective clinical waste management practices are essential for all healthcare facilities. In this article we will delve into the importance of these practices, highlighting the protocols and strategies that can mitigate risks.

Medical Waste Landscape

Recent figures show that clinical trials generate around 20% of medical waste, primarily resulting from ineffective supply schemes. According to the World Health Organisation, of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, 85% of clinical waste is non-hazardous but the remaining 15% can be viewed as hazardous and potentially infectious, toxic or radioactive.

Examples of waste include non-hazardous goods such as packaging and hazardous materials range from infectious waste to pathological waste, sharps, pharmaceuticals which can include expired or unused drugs or vaccines, cytotoxic and chemical or radioactive waste.

Medical waste is often sent to landfill or incinerated. As we strive to protect our environment, care has to be taken to ensure there are no dangerous spillages or leaks from chemical or biohazards or toxic emissions from chemical compounds or particle pollution.

Understanding the Problem

Various factors can contribute towards unwanted waste. Some of these are unavoidable and can stem from unexpected events beyond the control of the sponsors or logistics providers. Recent examples would include natural disasters and geopolitical conflicts which can disrupt supply chains and generate unforeseen waste. These events, however, constitute a smaller portion of waste and the focus should be on controllable areas.

Drug wastage often arises from insufficient patient recruitment or poor patient retention. Ineffective recruitment or high patient dropout rates can leave unused drugs that exceed their shelf life and require destruction.

Ancillary supplies can pose another significant challenge. These low-cost items, often ordered in bulk, can easily exceed the actual needs of the trial without meticulous requisitioning, creating substantial waste.

Moreover, waste from shipping and packaging materials are under scrutiny as the industry strives towards sustainability. The shift from single-use shippers to re-useable or recyclable materials is a positive step forward. Additionally, older equipment, such as low temperature freezers, can leak harmful chemicals, damaging the ozone layer, as can older vehicles used in logistics.

Strategies for Reducing Clinical Waste Emissions

The foundation of waste reduction lies in improving forecasting accuracy. New technologies such as advanced statistical modelling software and integration of artificial intelligence (AI) enable more precise predictions by analysing large volumes of data and identify trends. This technology can help improve trial design, optimise patient recruitment and retention rates and ensure the accurate determination of supply volumes, pack sizes and delivery schedules. This minimises the risk of overstocking and subsequent waste.

Sustainable packaging solutions and the transition to re-usable, bio-degradable packaging and the ability to recycle packaging into further secondary materials significantly reduces waste levels. Furthermore, it is essential to consider the logistics of collecting, recycling or safe destruction of waste from various locations and associated costs. Streamlined recycling programs will further reduce waste.

Moving towards eco-friendly equipment will play a key role in supporting the environment. Replacing older freezers with models using green gases and opting for laboratory products made from sustainable and durable materials contributes towards environmental preservation. Similarly, transitioning to lower-emission vehicles for transportation will support sustainability goals.

Reducing waste in clinical trials requires a collaborative effort by sponsors, researchers and logistics providers. Working together and implementing these strategies can minimise waste and promote a more sustainable future. Through improved forecasting, innovative packaging solutions and eco-friendly practices, we can address the critical issue of waste in clinical supply chains effectively.

Clinical Trial Supply Chain Solutions from Oximio

At Oximio, we understand the importance of responsible clinical trial waste management. We are committed to implementing best practices throughout the supply chain, minimising waste and ensuring patient safety and environmental protection.

Partner with us for a greener future in clinical trials. Contact us today to discuss how our expertise can help you minimise waste and maximize your impact on patient care and environmental sustainability.