Large piles of medical waste sit at a dump site near Gujia village in Nanjing.
Police in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, arrested three suspects who allegedly traded thousands of tons of medical waste that was later processed into disposable tableware and fake brand-name toys.
Nanjing police in August received reports from residents that piles of medical waste were stored at a dump site near Gujia village, including used needles, glass bottles and infusion tubes.
They later found that the three suspects had sold more than 3,000 metric tons of medical waste, which they had collected from hospitals in Nanjing since the beginning of 2012. They earned more than 40 million yuan (.8 million) from selling the waste.
The suspects paid each hospital 800 to 1,000 yuan per month to collect their waste, while some large hospitals produced more than 10 metric tons of waste. Then they hired workers to classify the waste, compressed the disposable plastic infusion bags and bottles, and finally smashed them into plastic particles.
The suspects confessed that the plastic particles were sold to many plastic product factories across the country for 2,200 to 2,800 yuan per metric ton, the police said.
"China only allows authorized companies specializing in medical waste to engage in such business," said a policeman surnamed Qi. "Trained workers, specialized containers and transportation vehicles are required before medical waste is burned and buried in certain sites."
To monitor the medical waste treatment, Nanjing Health Inspection Bureau said in August that medical waste should be classified and sent to special treatment agencies, and that the waste cannot be treated by unauthorized groups.
According to police, high profits drove the suspects and the hospitals to violate the treatment regulations. The suspects could earn more than 20,000 yuan from the waste produced by one large hospital every month.
Compared with using specialized treatment companies, which charge to treat medical waste, a hospital producing 10 metric tons of medical waste could save more than 500,000 yuan a year through illegal disposal of such waste.
The suspects have been prosecuted for crimes of environmental pollution.
Zhou Lin, a lawyer with Yicheng Law Firm in Jiangsu, said that according to criminal law, those who severely pollute the environment can receive up to three years in prison, while those causing extreme damage can be sentenced to between three and seven years in prison plus a fine.