It has been estimated that hospitals and long-term care (LTC) facilities in the US waste at least 125 million pounds of pharmaceuticals annually – a staggering figure. Kevin Bain in third quarter edition of Medical Waste Management looked at the inventories of drugs maintained by coroner offices to assess the scope and magnitude of household pharmaceutical waste. Data from a pilot study conducted by the Clark County Coroner’s Office in Nevada illustrated a death rate of 0.008 (same as the US in 2005). The total number of cases accepted by the coroner’s office was 3,393; of those, 46.4% included drug inventories. 325,000 doses of wide array of drugs – not including liquids, powders or delivery systems (i.e. Patches or syringes) were collected representing greater than 102 kilograms of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Bain then extrapolated that data to the entire US deceased population, the coroner’s office estimated that almost 18 metric tons of APIs are disposed of just by coroner’s office alone.
How is all this pharmaceutical waste disposed of currently?
Flushing them down the toilet is the most common method used by coroners to dispose of Pharmaceutical Waste remaining in the household following a person’s death. The issue is that the wastewater treatment plants or domestic septic systems are not designed to remove pharmaceutical waste from the effluent – this results in small concentrations of pharmaceutical waste can end up in drinking water. The FDA recommends that most pharmaceutical waste be disposed of by basically mixing them with coffee grounds or kitty litter and putting them into sealable bag or empty coffee can and tossing them out in the trash.
Pharmaceutical waste is an ideal feedstock for a plasma-arc, plasma gasification waste to energy system in that it is typically low in moisture/water content and high in oxygen and carbon. This combination minimizes the energy and heat required from the plasma arc, plasma gasification heating system (i.e. plasma torches). When the required from the plasma torches is low in the PTDR plasma-arc system, generating waste to energy becomes much more favorable.
For example, in a recent PTDR-100 a plasma-arc, plasma gasification waste to energy system proposal advanced where the feedstock proposed is 90% pharmaceutical waste (balance was inorganic alkaline batteries), the heat required from the plasma arc system was minimized to where the estimated power consumption for the entire system was less than 50 kW. Assuming an efficiency of 17,000 BTU/kW-hr on the generation side, it was estimated that this PTDR-100 a plasma-arc, plasma gasification waste to energy system would generate over 60 kW of electricity.