24 August 2013 - Llewellyn Leonard from groundWork will be presenting the only civil society perspective at the International Healthcare Waste Management conference, being held at the Sandton Convention Centre, in Johannesburg from 25-26 August 2003.

Healthcare waste management is an issue that has proved to be an Environmental Justice challenge in South Africa. The incineration of waste, as in the Ixopo area contributes to air pollution. There are health dangers as a result of illegal dumping of healthcare waste in poor black residential areas, as is numerous occasions on the Cape Flats.

groundWork is a young South African NGO committed to the process of reducing the impacts of badly managed health care waste and stopping incineration in favour of safer alternatives. groundWork believes that greater accountability, by both the private and public health sectors, is a necessary ingredient towards reducing the negative impacts of present healthcare waste disposal methods on civil society.

Some of the main challenges that groundWork has discovered through its work with hospitals in South Africa as well as in Southern Africa suggest that:

  • The fear of diseases like HIV and hepatitis has led hospitals to treat most of the waste as if it were potentially infectious. In fact, 90% or more of waste in hospitals, if properly segregated is simply trash, much of it packaging similar to what you would find in any shop or office. A lack of good segregation meant that a large amount of non-infectious waste is being incinerated unnecessarily. With good segregation of wastes, less than 10% would need to be treated to disinfect it.
  • There is a general perception that the best way to deal with all waste from hospitals is to burn it. This is based on the incorrect assumption that most wastes in hospitals are somehow contaminated and represent a threat. The specific danger in hospital waste is related mostly to the presence of large numbers of sharps such as syringes with needles. These specific wastes do pose a danger of transmitting disease, and require special treatment, although not necessarily incineration.
  • Hospitals literally release kilograms of mercury into the hospital environment (and out into the community environment) every year through accidental equipment breakage. Mercury is a highly potent neurotoxin, especially dangerous to pregnant women and children. In hospitals, it is found primarily in thermometers and blood pressure devices (sphygmomanometers). There was found to be very little awareness of the dangers of mercury amongst hospital staff.

For more information:
Contact Llewellyn Leonard on 082 353 5029
E-mail -