By Somluck Srimalee
The Nation Weekend
RECYCLING and its close cousin upcycling have caught in recent years but here in Thailand, few companies are taking on the enormous amounts of waste generated by hospitals.
That’s changing thanks to Kasetsart University’s Scrap Lab run by inveterate recycler Assoc Professor Dr Singh Intrachooto. He’s collaborating with Bangkok Metropolitan Administration General Hospital in finding ways to upcycle all the products the hospital no longer wants with the aim of reducing medical waste while also creating new products for the market.
Assoc Professor Singh Intrachooto, head of the creative centre for eco design at Kasetsart University, presents a lightweight and easy-to-use spoon specifically designed for hospital patients and the elderly.
“I started to work with BMA General Hospital four years ago looking how to reduce the 196,282 pieces of waste the hospital was generating every single month. Nearly half of those are clean products, among them the PVC bags used for dialysis solution, which tend to be dumped in the infectious waste pile even though they cannot be classified in that category. So I joined with the hospital team to figure out that can be recycled and what cannot,” Singh tells The Nation.
A tote made from the plastic bag used for dialysis solution
Now, five years on, his team has successfully turned about half the waste into useful products. Those bags used for dialysis solution have morphed into different kinds of totes, as have the wrappers of surgical equipment, while paper has been turned into handy scrapbooks.
Scrap Lab hasn’t stopped there either. In an effort to make the lives of staff and patients a little easier, the team has developed a range of others products too. These include 4,000 sets of tableware especially designed for the elderly, which have now been distributed to hospitals under the management of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Aspen Tree.
A bag made from the wrappers of surgical equipment is design for keeping the patient’s personal care items.
“We’ve developed and designed shoes for nurses and nurse aides, which are convenient and comfortable to wear during the long hours they are on their feet. We use quality raw materials but keep the price low at Bt500 a pair. The shoes are currently being developed in collaboration with footwear firm Adda and will be on the market soon,” Singh says.
For patients and the elderly, the lab has designed spoons made from premium plastic that are lightweight and easy for elderly hands to manipulate. For patients whose conditions require them to be hooked up to various medical devices, it’s come up with gloves that stop them pulling on the tubes as well as a mobile hair washing unit that can be used by nurses in giving their patients a refreshing shampoo. It’s also suitable for use by the elderly.
Scrap books made from hospital waste
But despite the efforts being made, recyclable medical waste remains a massive problem. To get an idea, just multiply the number of pieces dumped by BMA General Hospital with the 321 hospitals and health centres nationwide that vary between 11 and 250 beds each.
And then there’s the 500-bed and more hospitals that fall until the Health Ministry – 33 of them. Assuming that they, like the 500-bed BMA General Hospital, dump an average of 196,282 pieces per month per hospital, and the total is astronomical.
Scrap books made from hospital waste
“By upcycling all hospital waste, we can reduce garbage costs while also generating income for the hospitals and their staff. This is the best way to manage the country’s waste,” Singh says, adding that the research developed by the team is also available to private sector enterprises. “All they need to do is apply to the university and the hospital,” he explains.
The Scrap Lab, he stresses, is continuing its collaboration with the hospital in developing new products from medical waste and in designing tools that can improve the quality of life both for patients and elderly citizens.
Dr Singh and the head of nursing at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration General Hospital at the Green Hospital shop that distribute green products and upcycled products from hospital waste
“We hope that the private sector will help produce items from medical waste as we don’t have the capacity to use the more than a million pieces chucked away each year. The funds that are generated for sales can be used to buy medical equipment or medicine to help lower-income patients. And it will also reduce the country’s waste.”