Surge in vaccinations means more medical waste to process

Where do needles go after they’re used to administer the vaccine?
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 4:24 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 7:25 PM CDT
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WAUNAKEE, Wis. (WMTV) - When you get your COVID-19 vaccine, you may not think of the medical waste you’re creating in the process.

“It’s pretty much an afterthought for people,” said Keith Olson, the general manager of Madison Environmental Resourcing, Inc.

Everything from latex gloves to needles could be considered medical waste, if it collects any bodily fluids, and that trash needs to be disinfected.

“It’s the golden age of medical waste right now,” said Olson.

At MERI, the company collects puts used materials through a process that disinfects, compacts, and prepares the trash for a landfill.

”Our process is to render anything that’s a living organism and could be harmful to render it harmless,” said Olson. “It’s very important to have a clean environment and make sure that organisms out there that could be harmful to the general population.”

During the vaccine rollout, Olson says the volume of waste has not changed, but his drivers are seeing more waste from the vaccination process.

“It doesn’t create a large volume of waste and I don’t think our percentages are up tremendously,” said Olson. “I just think it’s the number of pick up and locations that we have to pick up.”

MERI collects waste from the three Madison area hospitals and the Public Health Madison Dane County vaccination site.

So far, the Alliant Energy Center vaccination site has used about 50 thousand safety syringe needles.

“There are some things that just can’t be reused and we do that out of patient safety,” said Tess Ellens, a PHMDC COVID Vaccine Deputy.

Ellens says the site is making an effort to scale back on waste in other areas.

“While we are having some impact on the environment because of the medical waste that we’re using, we want to make sure that we’re trying to do some other things to mitigate those environmental impacts,” said Ellens.

For example, vaccinators are disinfecting and reusing face shields and medical gowns.

Olson believes more vaccinations will only bring more medical waste.

“There might be kind of seeing a peak to it sometime in the near future,” he said.

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