Autoclave vs incineration: which one is the best method for the disposal of medical waste?


Autoclave vs incineration is a question often asked within the healthcare industry. Any medical waste generated at healthcare facilities must be treated and disposed of according to current medical and environmental regulations: this is the basis of all medical waste management systems.

But how does a hospital or clinic decide which method is most suited to dispose of all the waste they generate? Incineration is still one of the most popular methods for medical waste disposal, but with the appearance of more modern alternatives, steam sterilizers are also gaining increasing popularity in the healthcare sector.

In Celitron’s next article we shall take a detailed look at both solutions to help you decide which one is best suited for your medical facility: autoclaving vs incineration!

Autoclave vs incineration: how do they dispose of medical waste?

To choose between the two methods, one must also understand how one can dispose of medical waste. Let’s compare autoclaves vs incineration!

Autoclaves look like pressure cookers that use a process known as steam sterilization to kill foreign materials present in healthcare waste. Steam sterilization uses high-pressure and high-temperature steam that is well over 100 degrees Celsius (ranging between 121 and 134 degrees) to kill even heat-resistant bacteria. In that regard, autoclaves are similar to incinerators, as they both use high temperatures to eliminate the risk of infection. However, heat-resistant bacteria might still be found in incinerated medical waste.

The most advanced models achieve this with the use of a powerful vacuum pump for faster treatment and drying times and more optimal conditions for sterilizing the load inside the chamber of the machine. This is because air is one of the greatest obstacles to treating waste inside an autoclave.

The main difference between autoclaves and incineration is that steam sterilizers don’t completely destroy the treated materials. They “merely” sterilize them by killing infectious bacteria. This also allows autoclaves to serve a dual purpose: they are not only used to prep medical waste for disposal but can also sterilize certain medical tools and instruments, which can then be used again for the treatment of patients, without any risk of infection.

Incineration disposes of medical waste by burning it in a controlled manner, usually at off-site incinerators, after the waste has been transported there by a licensed medical waste removal company.

Autoclave vs incineration: what are the benefits and limitations of each method?

Let’s make this clear from the get-go: both autoclaving and incineration are valid methods for medical waste disposal. The “best” solution depends on several factors, but the main goal is always to maintain the safety of patients and medical staff, as well as the environment.

The main aspect to take into consideration is what kind of medical waste you need to dispose of. While autoclaves have many benefits as a more practical on-site solution, some waste can only be treated by destroying it in an incinerator.

Here’s a rundown of the benefits of each method:

When are autoclaves recommended over incineration?

  • disposing of “red bag” medical waste: medical equipment like bandages, gowns, gauze
  • materials contaminated by blood and medical sharps waste can also be disposed of when autoclaving is combined with medical waste shredding
  • treating sharps is much more advisable in an Integrated Sterilizer and Shredder, since metal items can remain in the ash produced by incinerators, and glass items can blast during incineration
  • sterilizing medical instruments and tools like surgical equipment, stainless steel, plastic pipette tips, glassware, latex gloves, hospital linens and textile materials, polypropylene and polycarbonate plastics

Using autoclaves vs incinerations is generally more practical, as they can be implemented in the waste management system of medical facilities of all sizes much more easily as an on-site solution.

Compared to incineration, they don’t need as big of a setup area, and modern models operate on an automated steam sterilization process.

The main benefit of treating waste on-site is that traditional risks associated with storing and transporting medical waste are greatly reduced, since the waste is already sterilized, and can be disposed of like regular municipal trash.

They are also less costly to use in the long-term and more environmentally friendly compared to incinerators, as there is zero risk of any harmful emissions.

When is incineration recommended over autoclaves?

  • disposing of trace chemotherapy, pathological, pharmaceutical, chemical, and other hazardous waste
  • waste-to-energy: incineration can also be used to produce electricity and heat for nearby buildings

Incineration is still a popular method for disposing of waste that simply cannot be treated in autoclaves.

If I use an autoclave instead of an incinerator: what kind should I choose? Autoclave models at Celitron

So, if you wish to have a practical on-site solution for medical waste disposal and the sterilization of medical tools, autoclaves are a great choice over incineration. But how does one decide which one to choose? There are several different types of autoclaves available on the market.

The right choice depends on the amount of waste/medical tools you need to treat each day, the amount of available space you can spare for the installation of your new autoclave, as well as what kind of tools you need to sterilize.

Regardless of their size, Celitron only produces the highest category of autoclaves on the healthcare market: class B steam sterilizers equipped with powerful vacuum pumps, made of corrosion-resistant 316L stainless steel. This way, we can provide you with extremely versatile solutions to treat all kinds of loads.

These are the models you can choose from:

Azteca A large autoclaves

Capacity: 110 to 880 liters.

Ideal for larger facilities like hospitals that generate a greater amount of waste each day and have to use a wide variety of medical tools and equipment for patient treatment.

Azteca AC medium autoclaves

Capacity: 75 to 200 liters.

Ideal for more moderately sized clinics, or operating theaters in hospitals.

Sting 11B Premium small tabletop autoclaves

Capacity: 25 liters.

The smallest of autoclaves are designed for medical facilities with only a limited amount of space.

All in all, autoclave vs incineration mainly depends on the types of medical waste you need to treat. Different categories require different disposal methods.

If you have any other questions about autoclaves, do not hesitate to CONTACT CELITRON! We are prepared to offer you a free quote to help you find the model most suited to the needs of your medical facility!

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