Unlike the large fixed site incinerators that occupy several acres of land, the paragon process is small, compact, and distributable. It fits in modest facilities typically found in light industrial areas and can be easily distributed close to where it is needed. Scale is achieved by operating several systems in parallel, essentially increasing capacity in “quasy quantum” steps as needed. This modularity effectively ensures that destruction is never stopped because the equipment is down, since a facility with several smaller units running in parallel is never subject to all the units simultaneously needing maintenance.
Reliability and security define the process. Incinerator are designed to operate 24/7 and take several days to turn on/off. This process requires offices of engineers and operators to maintain the thousands of censors and requirements. Essentially the operators must “feed the beast” to keep the incinerator running or risk running out of specification or significantly increasing their fuel costs.
For the waste generator the paragon process means that for the first time in decades your waste is not carried across long distances and can be treated close to the point of generation. The waste does not have to be collected, brought to a transfer station, then aggregation site, then redistributed to an incinerator a thousand miles away. The liability often associated with multiple transfers, long distance transport, and unpredictable storage conditions are completely avoided with the paragon process. With the Paragon process you don’t need to worry if putrescible waste is being stored in cooled trucks as it rides for days in the back of a trailer during the heat of summer.
Waste that undergoes multiple transfers, thousands of miles of transportation, disposal or rework of char, all contribute to the costs associated with medical waste destruction. Sustainability is generally defined as the ability of a system to continue doing what it is doing over time. How much longer can costly incineration practices be buried in other disposal costs by the incinerator operators? How long can the carbon footprint created by collecting waste in one area and shipping it many states away for destruction be tolerated? Is it in a hospital’s sustainability practices manual that allows waste to be collected from more regulated (“bluer” states and shipped to less regulated (“redder”) states for incineration? Sustainability initiatives offer significant environmental and financial benefits for waste generators—benefits that will help hospitals and care systems thrive now and in the future. Incineration does not fit that model.
Thanks to the virtues of camera phones and social media, many of us have seen the black plumes coming off conventional incinerators when they have deviations. Some of the better videos show smoke plumes covering marathons, wafting over homes, and settling over vehicles, schools, and other sensitive receptor areas. And these are the deviations where there was someone to record them. How many have taken place where there were no recording devices? Unfortunately, this pollution is not just the problem of the incinerator operator, but through chain of custody documents can be traced to specific wastes and specific sources. A class action event leading back to the generator has not happened yet. However, it is only a matter of time.
One of the lesser known features of incinerators is that they produce char not just ash. All explanations aside, char is essentially undecomposed or partially decomposed carbonized waste. Sometimes the char can be as high as 50%, with the constituent waste still recognizable. Just another liability waiting to rear its ugly head. The content of medical wastes leaching out of landfills. Low density plastic materials blown from landfills into the environment, rivers, or oceans. All real liability issues that the Paragon process eliminates.
The other issue with existing incinerators is they are grandfathered into the current air quality realm. What this means is their old emission limits, which are astronomical compared to current standards, are here to stay. They cannot update, modify, or improve the system without changing the permit which triggers a review that would result in the air quality district revoking their current permit.
With sustainability, environmental awareness, social responsibility and community relations, being the hallmark of most hospital groups, how can the decades old technology of incineration still be the central process to destroy the most toxic medical wastes? There are reasons why the federal and state regulatory groups have reduced the number of incinerators in the US from several thousand in the 1970’s to a small comparative handful today.