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Focus on clinical waste

Clinical waste is an important niche area of the waste management sector. While volumes are typically small, such waste is often hazardous or unpleasant in nature and needs to be disposed of in a sensitive manner. It’s a job that hospitals typically undertake themselves, but there is growing interest in the provision of such services from specialised third parties.

One such is Tradebe. In September 2019, the company received a draft environmental permit from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to operate a new clinical waste treatment facility at the Bellshill Healthcare Waste Treatment and Transfer Site in Bellshill, North Lanarkshire. Planning permission was granted in July 2019. The draft permit allows for a capacity exceeding 10 tonnes per day of hazardous waste and 75 tpd of non-hazardous waste. Tradebe expects the plant to be operational in October 2019, to fulfil a 10-year contract with the Scottish Government, valued at £10 million annually.

The Bellshill site will manage clinical waste disposal in Scotland for a range of waste producers. This will primarily involve waste produced by NHS Scotland trusts, but could also include waste arising from private hospitals, pharmacies, care homes, beauticians and veterinary practices. The service will include collecting, transporting, treating and disposing of the clinical wastes. Waste will be collected from medical and research sites. It will comprise of both clinical waste and other wastes produced on these facilities. At the Bellshill site, depending on the waste type, the waste will be either bulked up and sent off-site for incineration or disposal at landfill or treated on-site via a shredder, steam auger and drier, before compaction. This waste treatment process will be supported by natural gas powered boilers to provide heat to generate steam, natural gas burners to provide warm air for the drier (indirect heating), enclosed automatic bin washers and a vehicle wash-down area.

Tradebe Healthcare is one of a small number of dedicated clinical waste management companies. It operates largely in the UK, although the parent company is in Spain. In addition to the Bellshill site, it currently has four other locations in the UK: Avonmouth, Redditch, Wrexham and Rochester. The latter site was expanded in August 2019. The company is also involved in the US market. In November 2018, it announced a new upgrading project at a site in New Jersey run by Norlite, a Tradebe subsidiary. This is expected to be complete early in 2020.

Including those referenced above, AcuComm currently lists 32 active projects dealing exclusively with clinical waste. These are principally located in the USA and UK, although individual examples can be found elsewhere.

clinical-graphSource: AcuComm database September 2019. Click here to view the full dataset.

Clinical waste projects tend to be small-scale in comparison with more general waste projects. The average value of a clinical project in the AcuComm database is around US$13 million, while the annual throughput is an average of 11,600 tonnes per year or around 30 tonnes per day. Many are far smaller than this; for example a facility opened in Oman in 2016 which has capacity of 2.2 tonnes per day.

Incineration is the most common form of disposal, although there are signs of interest in the use of more advanced forms of treatment. AcuComm lists two clinical waste gasification plants, for example, one in the UK and one in the USA. Both were announced in 2018 but neither is currently operational. As ever, the more advanced the technology, the longer and less certain the lead times become.

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