The autoclave sterilizer was first conceived of over a 100 years ago as a method of cleaning surgical instruments for use. The process is still in use today, yet now can also be applied to medical waste in order to ensure that it is being disposed of safely.
The advantages of sterile surgery were realized in the mid 1800’s. As a result, physicians began to use open flaming as a way of sterilizing surgical equipment. In 1879, Charles Cumberland invented a more effective method that incorporated steam, calling it an autoclave sterilizer. Its benefits were quickly realized, and the simple machine became an essential component in every doctor’s office and clinic.
What makes the autoclave so effective is its ability to sterilize just about anything, regardless of its state. This includes solids, liquids, hollows and medical tools of any shape or size. The most basic autoclave is similar to a pressure cooker, while larger facilities have adapted the concept to meet needs of a much larger scope. Regardless of the size, they all use steam as an agent to kill germs, spores, bacteria, and other blood borne pathogens that are resistant to boiling water and detergents.
Your doctor’s office likely has autoclaves that can fit on top of a tabletop. These devices usually resemble a microwave oven and are used to sterilize equipment that is used on multiple patients. These are designed to meet basic needs, while larger autoclaves are used inside of hospitals to sterilize the multitude of medical and surgical equipment being used daily.
Medical Waste Disposal and Autoclave
When compared with incineration, autoclaving is a more environmentally friendly approach to medical waste disposal. These machines are able to sterilize medical waste so that it no longer poses a threat to the general population or the environment. Since these machines are able to sterilize materials in almost any state, they have proven to be very effective at removing all traces of infectious pathogens from medical waste.
Once medical waste has been sterilized inside of an autoclave it is usually subjected to a compaction process, such as shredding, making it unrecognizable and not reusable. This process reduces its volume significantly, allowing it to be disposed of in a traditional manner. It is important that waste be segregated at the site initially in order to avoid certain materials from being classified safe for an autoclave. About 10% of medical waste is deemed inappropriate for an autoclave as the process could release certain harmful chemicals that will then enter the general atmosphere after the machine is opened.
Despite this small risk, autoclave is the preferred method of treating the majority of medical waste from hospitals and other health care facilities. Ask a representative from MedWaste Management if this is a feasible option for the medical waste being generated inside of your institution.