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concrete from medical waste

Sustainable Concrete Reduces Impact of Medical Waste

By Laura BourlandRise Writer
Dec 8, 2017

More than 468,000 Americans currently undergo dialysis for the treatment of diabetes and related kidney failure, a result of an environmentally sick society. According to the National Kidney Foundation, the average dialysis treatment plan includes three sessions per week of approximately four hours per session and results in two to five pounds of scrap plastic per individual session. That’s more than 73 million tons of plastic waste!

As costs for landfill disposal rise due to environmental protections, researchers are discovering innovative uses for medical waste including more durable, structurally sound concrete for building.

The Future of Our Earth Relies on Innovative Solutions

While concrete is a fairly sustainable building material for foundations, homes, parking structures, commercial buildings, and walkways, there’s always room for improvement to reduce our environmental impact.

One of the most popular cement for a building is Portland cement, a material that produces one ton of CO2 and other greenhouse gases for every one-ton of cement made. 

Most cement contains limestone, and, at the rate, we’re producing cement, some more populated cities could run out of natural limestone in the near future. 

New research is discovering methods for creating more durable, longer-lasting concrete using recycled medical waste including sharps, surgical waste, and plastics from growing dialysis treatment.

What Types of Waste Are Being Used in Concrete?

Unfortunately, the EPA no longer has the right to regulate medical waste since the 1988 Medical Waste Tracking Act expired in 1991. Medical waste is now regulated at the state level, and, while we can’t be certain of exactly how much waste we’re creating, MedPro suggests we could be dumping as much as two million tons of biohazardous waste into landfills each year across our planet.

Waste Products Repurposed for Building

  • Sharps: Needles and syringes
  • Plastics: Sanitary tubing, containers, and packaging
  • Organics: Cotton swabs, bandages, sponges, paper
  • Glass: Broken bottles and retired glass
medical waste for concrete

Recycled Waste Concrete Experiments

Scientists around the world are actively searching for sustainable solutions to both our huge problem of landfill waste and our need environmentally friendly materials for building and repairing structures.

Australia: Dialysis Plastic Scrap Concrete 

The most recent experiment comes from the School of Engineering at Deakin University in Burwood, Australia. Partnering with the Royal Melbourne Hospital has empowered these creative students to transform plastic waste from dialysis treatment into more durable and water-resistant concrete.

"“Haemodialysis (the most common type of dialysis treatment) involves making a circuit where blood is pumped from the patient’s bloodstream through a machine, and then back to the patient. This process removes toxins and excess water and is life-sustaining for patients with kidney failure,” says Dr. Katherine Barraclough of the Royal Melbourne Hospital."

Numerous plastic tubes are used in this treatment process to maintain safety and sanitary conditions and remove the risk of re-infecting the patient. These single-use plastic pieces must be burned or sterilized to kill off infection and are usually dumped by the ton into landfills.

Mixing this sterilized and shredded plastic scrap at concentrations of .5% to 1% into traditional concrete results in a more durable, long-lasting, and waterproof finished concrete. Moreover, water abortion into the substrate is reduced by 30%, protecting the corrosion of pipes and damage to foundations.

medical waste and concrete

Houston, Texas: Sharps into Sustainable Concrete

Another team in Houston, Texas is focusing on sharps as a possible option for reducing environmental impact while producing concrete for building.

Sharps include syringes, needles, and lancets used at home and in retail clinics. The Sharps Compliance collects these biohazardous materials from patients being treated for a variety of conditions including cancer and diabetes and those undergoing elective procedures like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and the annual flu shot.

Normally, sharps waste is burned and shredded before being hauled off to landfills by the truckload. Under the 2010 Houston experiment, sharps were instead sterilized, melted down and reproduced into pellets to be used as a fuel for cement making. Byproduct ash was mixed into cement as well to increase durability and reduce waste. The experiments resulted in a stronger and less expensive building cement product and a significant reduction of waste.

medical sharps for concrete

Pakistan: Hospital Waste Ash Creates Lower Cost Concrete

The third experiment in Pakistan converted hospital waste ash into a super durable, concrete product for building.

Hospitals produce a huge amount of waste in the form of broken glass, syringes, needles, and surgical items. To effectively sterilize and dispose of it, some hospitals burn waste down to ash, resulting in a smaller volume of waste to then be taken to the dump.

The department of Civil Engineering at Nazarbayev University in Pakistan collected hospital waste ash (HWA) to use as an additive in concrete. The end product proved to be of a higher density than traditional concrete, has decreased time to set and is much less expensive.

medical waste concrete

Repurposing Medical Waste into Durable and Sustainable Building Concrete

As populations grow, we’re producing more medical waste than ever before and growing our landfills at an unsustainable rate.

As we search for more ways to reduce our environmental impact, researchers are discovering new ways to transform medical waste like sharps and plastic from dialysis treatment into durable aggregates for structural grade concrete.

Photos from Construction & Demolition Recycling, Chron, Research Gate,

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T06:01:55+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.