Waste Management In Action

Neutralising biohazards: Weston Thermal Solutions

Weston Thermal Solutions and Pink Environmental Services are upping their capacity to assist medical waste producers to deal with a surge in infectious material in the wake of COVID-19.

Since first reported to the World Health Organization in December 2019, COVID-19 has spread rapidly to every continent in the world, barring Antarctica. The World Health Organization declared the situation a global health emergency on 30 January 2020, with movement restrictions soon enacted world-over.

In light of the global pandemic, hospitals and waste management operators are bracing themselves for a surge in waste-contaminated with infectious materials.

While there is no current data on how much medical waste is being produced as a result of COVID-19, the recommended use of disposal personal protective equipment alone is set to see hospital waste generation skyrocket.

To help operators manage the surge, Belinda Paton, Weston Thermal Solutions (WTS) General Manager, says WTS – the thermal processing arm of The Weston Group – is working to increase the quantity of waste they receive.

“As demand increases on our healthcare system during this time, generated waste volumes also increase. To address this, we’re working hard with medical waste producers to provide a streamlined collection and disposal service,” Belinda says.

“Removing this waste in a timely and safe manner minimises the risk to healthcare staff, patients and the community as a whole.”

Belinda Paton, Weston Thermal Solutions General Manager

The Weston Group, which traditionally processes industrial waste and manufactures steelmaking supplies, recently diversified its operations to include the thermal treatment of various hazardous wastes, under the name WTS.

Using state-of-the-art technology, in conjunction with the strictest emission criteria in Australia, WTS opened its innovative thermal destruction plant at Kurri Kurri in NSW’s Hunter Valley last month.

Working with Pink Environmental Services (Pink), which collects and consolidates medical and hazardous waste, WTS has the capacity to thermally process 800 kilograms of waste each hour – with a proposed annual throughput of 8000 tonnes.

As a critical part of the WTS supply chain, Pink, which was established in late 2019 as the collection arm of WTS, works to consolidate waste generated by hospitals and waste management operators for bulk shipment to the Kurri Kurri plant.

Due to the nature of hazardous waste management, David Bullard, Pink General Manager, says safety is at the forefront of Pink and WTS’ approach to every issue.

“The risk profile is such that, you have to approach and treat everything as though it could kill, maim or even severely injure, because when you do, you mitigate the risk at that level,” he says.

“This leads to a safer working environment, which is absolutely paramount in the approach we take at Pink. It’s Pink’s intention to operate at industry best practice and then push beyond, so Pink then sets the standard.”   

As waste is considered an essential service, David says it’s Pink’s role to support those on the front line, and provide whatever services are required to support their operations.

“Pink has offered its support to many companies that are conducting primary collections, providing the disposal services, and working with the relevant government authorities,” he adds.

“At Pink, we believe the best way to minimise risk in the current circumstances, for industry, the community and the environment, is to earmark all COVID-19 contaminated material and potential COVID-19 contaminated material for ultra-high thermal destruction, rather than sterilisation and landfill.”

Belinda shares similar sentiments, citing thermal destruction as arguably the most secure way to destroy pathogenic substances including the COVID-19 virus. Belinda adds that through the process, only ash which has been treated for prolonged periods at high temperatures is sent to landfill.

“This generally represents only 10 per cent of the initial waste load, thereby drastically reducing the burden on landfills and extending their operational lifespan,” she says.

David Bullard, Pink Environmental Services General Manager

By neutralising the potential for bio-hazardous waste streams to negatively impact community health and the environment, Belinda says thermal treatment facilitates a disposal option for waste streams that cannot be disposed of via other means.

“While always an important link in the waste management chain, thermal treatment is particularly critical in these challenging times,” she says.

WTS’ new plant features a primary combustion chamber rotary kiln, which Belinda says enhances thermal processing by providing greater contact between waste and combustion air.

“The rotary kiln primary chamber is an ashing, co-current operation, with material loaded into the primary combustion chamber for initial processing,” Belinda says.

Following combustion, the resultant ash material is discharged from the kiln and maintained on a stationary burnout hearth for up to eight hours, to ensure complete burnout of all carbonaceous matter.

To safely manage hazardous and medical waste, WTS employs strict inspection and quarantine protocols to all incoming waste. This, Belinda says, ensure the status, classification, storage requirements, optimal treatment mode and destruction verification of all incoming streams.

“Good chemical hygiene is crucial while working with hazardous and bio-hazardous waste, so our treatment process is designed to be almost entirely automated, with no physical contact between operators and hazardous waste,” Belinda explains.

This is achieved through the design and use of a tippler bin to deposit waste directly into the loading system of the thermal destruction process.

“The site also has a cool room facility to maintain putrescible waste below 4°C at all times until processing occurs. Bin disinfection processes are also applied to ensure the safety of bins/receptacles exchanged/returned as part of the service,” Belinda says.

According to David, regulatory authorities have approached WTS and Pink regarding their capacity to assist in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While approved to thermally destroy other inputs, we are currently focusing our attention and plant capacity on processing clinical and related wastes,” he says.

“We want to ensure that we are positioned with sufficient storage and processing to support the NSW effort in this crisis situation.”

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