With the continued battle against COVID-19 in the Philippines, so is the continued rise in the volume of health care or medical wastes in the country. On the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the Asian Development Bank had already projected few cities which will deal with excessive amount of medical wastes, including the country’s capital, Manila, with a projection of 280 metric tons per day.
According to the Health Care Waste Management Manual of the country’s Department of Health (DOH), medical wastes are considered health hazards due to the presence of pathogens and other contagions that could enter the human body through abrasions or cuts, mucous membrane, inhalation, or ingestion. Furthermore, it is also considered as an environmental hazard as it can cause water, soil, and air pollution.
DOH, along with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the national government’s Inter-Agency Tasked Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), have issued series of reminders and guidelines to the public and requested local governments to intensify its campaign on proper health care waste management this time of pandemic.
Like in any part of the world, South Cotabato, a province located in South Central Mindanao, also recorded a surge in its collected volume of medical wastes from its hospitals, clinics, isolation centers, and other health facilities as the local government and its health sector grapple to address the increasing number of COVID-19 positive cases in the province, respond to the waves of returning residents who were stranded in other localities due to the imposed community lockdown across the country, and prevent the spreading of the disease through strict isolation and quarantine protocols.
Since the pandemic, medical wastes in the province increased by around 20 to 30 percent with an average of 15 tons per month, it’s Provincial Environment and Management Officer, Mr. Siegfred Flaviano, said. “Most are face masks, personal protective equipment (PPEs), [hospital] gowns, and gloves,” he added.
However, while the province was not ready for the corona virus disease, it was definitely prepared to respond to the surge on medical wastes.
South Cotabato vs. medical wastes
Improper disposal of medical wastes has been an existing concern in the Philippines even before the pandemic. In 2019, the country was stunned when news broke of medical wastes, including used syringes, vinyl and test containers, among others, were floating in Mactan Channel and washed ashore in a barangay in Cebu. The incident raised the alarm and highlighted the importance of proper medical waste management in the country.
While not of a major concern in the province yet, South Cotabato took a more proactive approach and established a Health Care Waste Treatment Facility (HCWTC) in 2016, the first local government unit-led waste treatment facility in the country. It features a treatment system using a Filipino technology invented by a Davao-based company, RAD Green Solutions, composed of innovators who aim to address the existing health care waste problems of today through production of chemical waste treatment facility or hazardous waste treatment machine.
“The Health Care Waste Treatment Facility is compliant to R.A. 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990, wherein all health care waste facilities must treat their wastes accordingly… It is the facility that collects, treats, and disposes all the wastes coming from hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers, and anything that contains toxic and hazardous wastes,” Flaviano explained.
Currently, the facility treats medical wastes from 23 public and private hospitals, isolation centers, laboratories, diagnostic centers, other health facilities, and other clinics linked to hospital-linked clinics. It has been a great help for the medical society, especially this time of pandemic.
“We are ensured that healthcare wastes are properly managed… we are collecting the wastes from the isolation facilities and the wastes from the locally-stranded individuals, we are ensured that no wastes, since it is infectious - the COVID virus - we are ensured that our community is protected from healthcare waste because we are managing it,’ Flaviano said.
HCWTC is located in the six-hectare Integrated Provincial Environment and Management Center in Barangay Tinongcop, Tantangan town, and is a part of the provincial government’s 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan. South Cotabato spent a total of Php 12 million to establish the treatment facility, including the procurement of the six-hectare lot, vehicles for waste collection, pyroclave machines; and construction of the facility’s main building and disposal area. After securing the necessary permits, licensing, personnel training, and facility equipment it became fully-operational.
He said, while the province has an existing Sanitary Landfill located in one of its town, Surallah, the provincial environment chief underscored the need to put up a separate landfill or facility specifically for toxic and hazardous wastes in compliance to RA 6969.
“The sanitary landfill is specifically for domestic and household wastes,” he explained.
Apart from managing medical wastes in the province, the HCWTC is also operating as an economic enterprise for the local government of South Cotabato. Health facilities which make use of the HCWTC spend Php 35.00 per kilo to treat their medical wastes. Prior to the pandemic, South Cotabato generates an average of Php 4 to 5 million per year from the facility. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, income from the facility surged to Php 6 million.
To sustain the facility, local legislators passed Provincial Ordinance No. 6 series of 2016, to ensure that funds are annually allocated for its operations. Plans for expansion have also been considered by the local government.
“We are now trying to expand it, to include all other wastes, because under RA 6969, there are different types of toxic and hazardous wastses, for now, we are only catering for healthcare wastes. We are partnering with a private corporation, which is Agri Power Incorporated, and put up a waste to energy project that will include not only the healthcare wastes, but other wastes in the province. In that way, it can become sustainable because we will not be needing any more landfills or any areas for the dumping of the waste products. We are looking into a public private partnership for the waste to energy project,” Flaviano explained.
Pyroclave System – the Filipino Technology
South Cotabato uses a Filipino-made technology to treat its medical wastes.
“We chose the Filipino technology, first, to help the Filipino industry. Second, it is very costly to procure machines outside of the Philippines, to include shipping. Third, this machine is also tested since it is being used in other countries particularly in the Middle East and Davao City,” Flaviano said.
Dubbed as Pyroclave Optima, this system invented by RAD Green Solutions, makes use of pyrolysis, a non-burn technology to treat medical wastes.
“South cotabato is our first installment of the pyroclave optima system, a non-burn system; a machine that caters medical waste,” said Neil Anthony S. Jamili, Research and Development Manager and Corporate Secretary of RAD Green Solutions.
Pyrolysis is defined as the “thermal decomposition of substance and materials in the absence of supplied molecular oxygen in the destruction chamber in which the said material is converted into gaseous, liquid, or solid form,” based on the DOH Health Care Waste Management Manual. The process can “handle the full range of health care wastes” and its residues are to be disposed in a secured facility such as a sanitary landfill.
Flaviano said, its pyrolysis feature is allowed under Philippine law since it follows a non-burn technology. The Philippines has a long-standing ban on incineration on wastes, including medical wastes.
Under Article II, Section 20 of the Philippine Clear Act of 1999 or Republic Act No. 8749, “Incineration, hereby defined as the burning of municipal, biomedical and hazardous waste, which process emits poisonous and toxic fumes is hereby prohibited; Provided, however, That the prohibition shall not apply to traditional small-scale method of community/neighborhood sanitation "siga", traditional, agricultural, cultural, health, and food preparation and crematoria.”
Apart from its pyrolysis feature, pyroclave is also capable of treating 150 grams of wastes per hour, or 1.2 tons of medical wastes in an eight-hour operation, and is energy efficient at 30-kilowatt per hour. It is also capable of heating the chamber at 600 °C in less than 30 minutes, which is hotter and faster than the mandated 121°C at 30 minutes of DOH.
Apart from the optima, the company also offers other variants of the technology that can treat 200 grams of waste in four hours, and 200 kilograms per four to eight hours. An illustration of the technology can be accessed here.
“It’s tailor-made based on the requirement of the LGU, on the demand on the waste as well, and on patent, because of the fact that it is a patented system, minimal variations can be done based on the patent. So we cannot easily modify,” Jamili said.
He said the company hopes to help address the Philippines’ problem in health care waste management through their invention.
“I think the most concern that we want to cater is that, in the Philippines, there is a gray area for this. Most hospitals that follow the rule of healthcare medical waste are just a slice of the whole cake. We need to look into other hospitals that do not follow the rule so that we can actually lessen the pathogens and contagions that actually exist, and we can resolve their problem on medical waste,” Jamili said.
“We encountered a few hospitals that don’t treat their medical wastes. They just put it into vaults, and it’s very problematic. It’s a matter of asking whether, is it really a long term solution or is it just a temporary solution that creates more problems in the future? Pyroclave system is actually a solution that is built to last long,” he added.
The technology is also a cheaper alternative for South Cotabato since it is locally-made and spare parts are readily available.
“The usual competitors are from abroad. We saw the problem on treatments like this, if something is down, you have to order it outside, and take 10 months perhaps to have a spare part of it,” he said.
“The creation of the pyroclave system, which is proudly Filipino-made from Davao City, allows every treatment system, with the same system, to make everything in fast track. So if ever there is a problem, we could just fix it. We have dynamic engineers and fabricators that we will be able to send should there be any problem,” he further said.
Healthier Pinas and the world
In the next five years, RAD Green aims to install 20 branches of medical wastes treatment strategically established across the country to address the nation’s issue on hazardous waste management.
Its Philippine technology is also bound to set abroad, with possible talks of partnership with Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, Jamili explained.
“We are having good discussions, but right now we wanted to resolve first the problem of the Philippine setting, because what for is expansion, if you in your own soil could not solve this problem. The vision of the company is to create a model country, and of course nothing but the Philippines first,” he said.