Hesperian Health Guides

Burying Health Care Waste

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 19: Health Care Waste > Burying Health Care Waste

Burial pits are useful for disposing of sharps, body parts, and expired medicines. Try not to fill waste pits with materials that can be composted (such as food waste), reused (some glass and plastic materials), or put in a landfill after disinfection (plastics, cloth, bandages).

If there is waste collection and a landfill nearby, disinfected waste can be collected and safely buried there. If there is not, consider building small waste pits at the health center to make sure waste is safely buried. Because sharps are the most dangerous wastes, it is always best to bury needles and other sharp tools in a safe pit at the health center.

Burying waste is safest when everyone who handles the waste understands and follows the process.

Safe waste pits

For a waste pit to be safe, it should be located downhill from nearby wells, in an area where the groundwater is not near the surface, and at least 50 meters from rivers, streams, springs, and other water sources. Pit sides and bottoms should be lined with clay to prevent liquids from passing into the soil and groundwater. The pit should be well-marked and have a fence around it to keep people and animals out.

Illustration of the below.
50 meters from
any water
50 meters from
50 meters down-
hill from a well
Use the 50 meter rule when you dig a pit to bury wastes.

How to make a waste pit with a concrete cover

This kind of pit is best used only for infectious waste and not for regular garbage.

EHB Ch19 Page 439-1.png
  1. Dig a pit 1 to 2 meters wide and 2 to 5 meters deep. The bottom of the pit should be at least 1½ meters above the highest level of groundwater (water table).
  2. Line the bottom of the pit with a layer of clay at least 30 cm thick.
  3. Build up a ridge of earth around the top of the pit to prevent surface water from running in.
  4. Build a fence around the area where the pit is located to keep children safe and animals out.

Each time waste is put in the pit, cover the waste with 10 cm of soil, or a mix of soil and lime. Lime helps disinfect the waste, and will also keep animals away.

When the waste rises to ½ meter from the surface, cover it with ½ meter of soil and seal it with a layer of concrete at least 10 to 30 centimeters thick.

How to seal sharps in containers with concrete

EHB Ch19 Page 439-2.png

Place disinfected sharps and sharps containers in a hard container such as a metal drum. When the container is mostly full (¾), add a mixture of 1 part cement, 1 part lime, 4 parts sand, and ⅓ to ½ part water. Lime works as a disinfectant, and it also helps the cement flow into empty spaces to completely surround the waste. Seal the container and bury it in a trench or landfill.

Disposing of liquid waste

Many health centers pour bleach, contaminated water, or other liquids from the health center down a drain. This is only safe if the drain does not lead to a stream or other water source. Dilute the liquid with a lot of water before dumping it. To protect water sources, it is better to put used bleach and other liquids into a safe leach pit. Chemicals such as glutaraldehyde and formaldehyde should be treated before disposal.

To build a safe leach pit

EHB Ch19 Page 439-3.png

In a place where the ground does not flood, and far from waterways and wells, dig a pit ½ meter to 1 meter deep. In the bottom of the pit, put a layer of sand a few centimeters deep. Then put a layer of gravel a few centimeters deep, and a layer of larger stones on top. Put a cover on the pit to prevent rainwater from getting in.