Regulated medical waste (RMW) is typically stored onsite at the hospital, clinic or facility from which it originated, and hauled away by trucks for incineration and disposal. This process is strictly regulated and requires that detailed records be kept by the hospital or facility, hauling company and incinerator.
With so many potential touch points, this method can pose a risk to the personnel handling the infectious medical waste and can have serious environmental repercussions as the waste is eventually disposed of through incineration, according to a Boxborough, Mass.-based company that has created a new process for sterilizing RMW.
Sterilis LLC has developed a device that combines steam sterilization with a grinder, allowing it to be treated on-site and at point-of-care in about 60 minutes and requiring no dedicated plumbing, drainage, or fixtures.
“Sterilis’ system completely reinvents how medical waste is disposed and creates a safer and more environmentally friendly process,” says Bob Winskowicz, CEO of Sterilis LLC. “Because the waste is treated onsite and on-demand, the safety profile is drastically improved by minimizing the number of touch points. The process helps to reduce the risk of hospital acquired infections (HAIs), which, according to the CDC, cause a staggering 99,000 deaths annually.”
Once the user places the medical waste into the device, shuts the lid, and touches the green start icon on the touchpad, it sterilizes the waste at 138 C. The waste is held at this temperature for about 30 minutes, and then is released into a grinding mechanism that transforms the waste into a confetti-like substance and drops it into a collection drawer that contains a bag with all corresponding regulatory markings. The collection bag can then be placed into a solid waste receptacle.
“From an environmental standpoint, the Sterilis system sterilizes and transforms the waste into harmless solid waste at point of care, completely avoiding the need to incinerate the medical waste,” says Winskowicz. “As a result of grinding the waste, the system reduces the volume of waste by 80 percent.”
The device is the size of an office photocopier and can be wheeled into a facility, placed on-site where the medical waste is being generated and remediate the waste without unnecessary handling or storage.
Additionally, the software tracks all regulatory data and stores it in the cloud, where it can be accessed at any time. This process eliminates the boxing, labeling, and labor/liability involved with manual regulator record keeping and data storage.
“With the combination of reduced health issues within healthcare facilities, needle exchange facilities, etc. and the environmental benefits, Sterilis’ system is more financially sustainable as well,” says Winskowicz.
One of the key industries that has had the most initial impact and use for the system is the healthcare industry, such as physicians’ offices, urgent care centers, dialysis centers, surgery centers, blood collection facilities, health clinics and needle drop centers.
According to Winskowicz, the device can save adopters more than 25 percent on their monthly regulated medical waste service contract. In many cases, however, this estimate is much higher, and Sterilis has seen cost savings of more than 50 percent.
Wentworth Surgery Center in Somersworth, N.H., has been using the Sterilis system since August 2016.
“It creates little waste compared to having to box it and send it out, and the cost is significantly less than what we were paying for our previous service,” says Barbara A. Plansinis, RN, BSN, CPSN, administrator at Wentworth Surgery Center. “In fact, we have seen a significant cost reduction of about 25 percent.”
It has been great to be able to dispose of biohazard and sharps in a much more efficient way, as well as being safe. The Sterilis process from sales to installation to support and service has been a pleasure to work with from start to finish.”
The center processes biohazard waste on a daily basis.
“It’s very important for us to have a process that is simple, safe and effective,” says Plansinis. “The Sterilis machine is very user friendly, not a big learning curve and relatively quiet. Ours is located near the operating room and the staff cannot hear it when they are performing surgery.”
Another market Sterilis is focused on is the transportation industry—airports and cruise ships—both of which must handle the regulated waste coming into the U.S. from other countries within 72 hours of touchdown.
Winskowicz says the greatest challenge the Sterilis system faces is “change” within the healthcare sector.
“The current system of haul and incinerate has been the leading process for RMW disposal the past several decades,” he says. “While the current system is extremely antiquated and many issues are associated—like with any new technology— facilities are hesitant to make a change to existing processes, even though it’s a most cost-effective and safer way to dispose of medical waste.”