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A Brief History of Medical Waste Disposal

A Brief History of Medical Waste Disposal

Although modern practices recognize the importance of proper medical waste disposal, this was not always the case.

Although modern practices recognize the importance of proper medical waste disposal, this was not always the case. Imagine a society in which the waste of everyday life was never addressed. As important as clean air and water are, throughout history those two vital resources have not been as valued as they are today. In examining a brief history of medical waste disposal, you will come to appreciate just how far society has come in making a healthier and safer world for everyone.

The Beginnings of Medical Waste Disposal

In the nineteenth century, sanitation and medical waste disposal were almost unheard of. It was not until the middle to late 1800s that serious change began. The famous British reformer, Edwin Chatwick, researched the incredibly foul conditions that could be found inside Britain’s prisons and hospitals. His significant efforts led to the creation of the Public Health Act in 1848. Chatwick’s work was an inspiration to others. For instance, new reforms came about in the United States thanks to Colonel George E. Waring, who served as an officer in the Union army during the Civil War. Waring founded the career field of sanitary engineering. Sanitary engineering has become an essential part of our lives here in the present day.

Medical waste disposal also owes quite a bit of credit to Joseph Lister, also from England. Lister made the connection between modern ideas of germ theory with the concept of sanitation for medical purposes. Essentially, the germ theory was an idea that connected diseases with germs. Humans were the breeding grounds for these germs, which when they multiplied spread disease. In the 1870s, Lister discovered that inadequate sanitation and medical waste disposal practices were to blame for the rampant spread of diseases in hospitals.

Into the Twentieth Century

The rise of modern medical waste disposal in the twentieth century led to Americans being able to live longer. Better technology and tougher laws regarding proper sanitation were key elements in helping people lead healthier lives.  New technology and higher standards became the law, with the introduction of the Solid Waste Disposal Act in 1965 and the Medical Waste Tracking Act in 1988. Harsher guidelines on the disposal of medical waste became a priority, which in turn helped the environment and contributed to healthier, happier lives.


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