Going Green: A Texas recycling company strives to lessen environmental harm from healthcare waste

In my humble opinion, we need more of these companies around to ensure sustainability, in fact, I think the manufacturers / equipment providers should play a bigger role in  recycling these equipment. Original story can be accessed from here.

It is an inevitable part of the patient treatment process that some procedures generate toxic materials, and healthcare staffs are responsible for proper disposal. Obsolete medical equipment, radiation, mercury, pharmaceuticals, and biomedical waste all must be managed carefully to protect people and the environment.

To clear the confusion, waste management companies that cater to healthcare facilities are ready to step in and fill the void.

“Healthcare facilities should have waste management protocols in place to minimize potential harm, not only to patients and staff, but also downstream to the environment and the safety of those who may handle or come into contact with it once it leaves the facility,” says Louis Okon, president and CEO of Okon Metals in Dallas.

Okon is a fourth-generation leader of Okon Metals. For nearly 100 years the company has specialized in recycling, and for the last 25 years Okon has worked in MRI magnet recycling on national and international projects.

“We are the direct recycling contact for hospitals, imaging centers, medical networks, OEMs, insurance companies, and finance companies when an MRI magnet is in need of disposal,” Okon says.

Replaced, damaged and aged magnets, insolvent MRI operations, MRI systems being returned to finance companies, or even upgraded MRI systems all require recycling. With their specific training for handling and processing MRI magnets, Okon and his staff can decommission and dismantle a magnet on-site when there is no other way to remove it from a building.

They have the necessary environmental permits to decommission magnets properly and conduct regular visits to downstream metals consumers to be sure the waste is being handled appropriately once it leaves their facility. They also provide transportation from all 50 states and internationally. Okon Metals tries to make waste removal and disposal a relatively easy process for facilities.

“Without a strict waste management protocol,” Okon says, “there is no way to ensure your patients and staff, or even the individual people and businesses who come into contact with the waste once it leaves your facility, [that everyone is] properly trained, insured, certified, or qualified to handle the materials. Without knowing where the waste may end up, facilities can face potential environmental and safety hazards, as well as legal claims and liability.

“It is often plaintiffs’ attorneys who open a facility’s eyes to the need for a waste management protocol, usually soon after environmental damage or personal injury has occurred,” says Okon.

Okon does find that, because of laws and insurance, healthcare centers usually maintain appropriate protocols. “While some struggle to do the bare minimum…others have a full program and team to identify and implement an internal, as well as downstream, protocol for each by-product and waste item it produces, from needles to 90,000 pound MRI magnets,” he says.

Okon maintains that correct disposal is more cost-effective in the long run. While healthcare staff may balk at the expense, recycling companies provide incentives to make the process more appealing and accessible. For instance, Okon Metals does not charge for transportation or for most of its services, says Okon.

In addition, “we also, in most cases, pay our customers for the MRI magnets based on the intrinsic metallic value of its components,” he says.

Okon has realized that many facilities are still unaware of the low-cost, free, or even profitable services associated with waste disposal. Clearly, more information can be circulated on how to implement efficient, cost-effective waste management protocols, he says.

The goal for Okon and his staff is to reduce and eventually eliminate environmental, health, and financial disasters related to improper waste removal. If the company’s long-standing track record is any indication, they are on the right path.

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