Healthcare waste (HCW) is generated in different healthcare facilities (HCFs), such as hospitals, laboratories, veterinary clinics, research centres and nursing homes. It has been assessed that the majority of medical waste does not pose a risk to humans. It is estimated that 15% of the total amount of produced HCW is hazardous and can be infectious, toxic or radioactive. Hazardous waste is a special type of waste which, if not properly treated, can pose a risk to human health and to the environment. HCW contains potentially harmful microorganisms that can be spread among healthcare personnel, hospital patients and the general public, causing serious illnesses. Healthcare personnel are the specialists especially exposed to this risk. The most common medical procedure, which pose the highest risk, is injection (i.e, intramuscular, subcutaneous, intravenous, taking blood samples). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 16 billion injections are administered worldwide each year. However, if safety precautions are not followed, and needles and syringes are not properly disposed of, the risk of sharps injuries increases among medical staff, waste handlers and waste collectors. What is more, sharps injuries increase the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B and C viruses (HBV/HCV), tuberculosis (TB), diphtheria, malaria, syphilis, brucellosis and other transmissions. Disposing of medical waste in a landfill without segregation and processing will result in the entry of harmful microorganisms, chemicals or pharmaceuticals into soil and groundwater, causing their contamination. Open burning or incinerator malfunctioning will result in the emission of toxic substances, such as dioxins and furans, into the air. In order to reduce the negative impact of medical waste, waste management principles should be formulated. To minimize health risks, it is also important to build awareness among health professionals and the general public through various communication and educational methods. The aim of this paper is to present a general overwiev of medical waste, its categories, the principles of its management and the risks to human health and the environment resulting from inappropriate waste management.
Keywords: human health; medical waste; pathogens.