28 May 2018
Tel Aviv, Israel
Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

Health-care activities protect and restore health and save lives. But what about the waste and by-products they generate? Biomedical waste management is an issue of major concern not only to hospitals, but also to the environment, as it has been well documented. Steps in the management of biomedical waste include generation, accumulation, handling, storage, treatment, transport, and disposal. Amit Sheleg, and a team of Israeli engineers came up with a solution, and high efficient and cost-effective technology: Hygimed. The team developed a machine that converts the biomedical waste into ordinary waste by shredding and simultaneously chemical disinfecting process at hospital site. Amit is now part of the SwitchMed incubation phase to nail it.

According to the World Health Organisation, every year an estimated 16 billion injections are administered worldwide, but not all of the needles and syringes are properly disposed of afterwards. Despite the decrease in using injections with contaminated needles and syringes in low- and middle-income countries, in 2010, unsafe injections were still responsible for as many as 33,800 new HIV infections, 1.7 million hepatitis B infections and 315,000 hepatitis C infections. In developing countries, additional hazards occur from scavenging at waste disposal sites and the manual sorting of hazardous waste from healthcare establishments.

Of the total amount of waste generated by healthcare activities, 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive. This is why biomedical waste poses a risk to public health. Not only healthcare and sanitation workers and waste handlers are at risk of exposure to biomedical waste as an occupational hazard, but also patients and the general public. In addition, if the biomedical waste is not properly managed and disposed of, pathogens and toxic pollutants might be released into the environment. For instance, landfills can contaminate drinking-water if they are not properly built. If the health-care waste is incinerated inadequately, this can cause the release of pollutants into the air, such as human carcinogens that have been associated with a range of adverse health effects.

¨The payback period of Hygimed may be less than one year,¨ Sheleg says.

Many solutions are available in the market for this issue. None of them, however, is good enough. “Poor solutions lead to poor results,” says Sheleg, “despite the efforts already being made to bring solutions to the market, the implementation of good practices in waste treatment remains poor.” Sheleg joined an engineering team called “Maabarot”, who build smart machines to Israeli market in order to work together on this business adventure.  Maabarot team believes that the hospitals and medical centers should better protect public health by reducing the volume and toxicity of the biowaste they produce. ¨ Poor medical waste management is violating the rights of people to a healthy environment,¨ he adds.

After 3 years of hard engineering work, including consultations with experts from local hospitals in the initial design stage, Sheleg and the Maabarot team have developed a dramatically improved technological solution named Hygimed. This machine makes it very easy and convenient for hospitals to implement an environmentally sound waste management in both developed and developing countries, explains Amit. He also adds that Hygimed is an innovative process for shredding and simultaneously chemically disinfecting the bio-medical waste into sanitary waste.

Compared to alternative solutions, Hygimed is a cold process that is relatively odor- and moisture-free, requiring very low maintenance. The sterilization formula is biodegradable and the energy consumption is very low, thus has a small carbon footprint. Last but not least, the combination of shredding and disinfecting simultaneously enables a smaller machine, lower investment and higher waste volume per hour of treatment. This dramatically reduces the need for special, expensive transportation to the municipal treatment site. The return on investment of this technology may be less than one year.  Amit says proudly, that “there is now a newly-developed state-of-the-art machine that meets hospital needs, promising a real reduction in expenses.”

Sheleg is an electronic engineer and holds MBA, lives in a green kibbutz in Israel, a collective community placed in the rural environment. Despite being a well-rounded and literate green entrepreneur, it was only while leading a koi fish farm that he fully acknowledged how the world is struggling with maintaining a healthy environment. This was in 2001, when an epidemic disease wiped out all the koi fish population in Israel. Sheleg took the lead at 2003 and for the first time understood what “safe environment” means. “Although it seems not to be any connection between koi fish and medical waste, while studying master’s degree – environment- and international economics-oriented, I was introduced to the danger posed by hazardous hospital waste disposed of by incinerators and landfills. I got totally hooked”, explains Sheleg.

Since then, Sheleg strongly believes that biomedical waste must be appropriately treated at the point of generation. That is why the machine is specifically designed for hospitals, enabling the implementation of environmentally-sound waste management, leading to a safer environment.

Sheleg is now part of the SwitchMed incubation phase. Despite Hygimed not being Sheleg’s first innovation, as he is also one of three founders of a startup on solar energy called IPV, he is benefiting from the SwitchMed program by developing and presenting the green business plan correctly. “SwitchMed is being very supportive so far, particularly with the mentoring part,” Sheleg explains. After proving the concept, and selling the first two machines, the team is currently testing the first prototype with the Israeli authorities and intending to conduct shortly a controlled pilot at one of the biggest hospitals in the country.

Hygimed has been presented to the world for the first time at MEDICA fair – the biggest pharma show that took place in November 17 in Dusseldorf, Germany.

This article was first published on the SwitchMed website.

Hygimed Resource Efficiency & Sustainable Waste Management
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