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Disposing of Medical Waste: The Basics You Need to Know

October 27, 2021

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Disposing of Medical Waste: The Basics You Need to Know

Disposing of Medical Waste: The Basics You Need to Know. Medical waste disposal is an important task for any healthcare facility or business. As medical professionals, or business owners, we want to do everything we can to keep our patients/customers and the environment safe. One of the best ways to do this is by disposing of medical waste appropriately. There are many different types of medical waste, so it’s important that you understand what these are before you start collecting and storing your medical waste. It’s also important that you know how to dispose of medical waste properly. Here, are some tips on how to handle medical waste for a safe and sanitary environment.

Types of Medical Waste

Disposing of Medical Waste: The Basics You Need to Know. There are several different types of medical waste that maybe generated, this will depend on your business, whether it’s a healthcare facility, clinic, tattoo shop or hospital. If you have procedures that produce medical waste, from flu shots to tattoo and piercings, there will be medical waste that needs to be identified and disposed of properly. The specific type of medical waste depends on your business.

Generally, medical waste is healthcare waste that that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials and is often referred to as regulated medical waste, infectious medical waste, biohazard waste, red bag waste and more. There is not one universally accepted name of medical waste or even a definition that is universal.

In Illinois for example medical waste is called, Potentially Infectious Medical Waste (PIMW) and is defined as waste generated in connection with the diagnosis, treatment (i.e., provision of medical services), or immunization of human beings or animals; research pertaining to the provision of medical services; or the provision or testing of biologicals.

In Indiana medical waste is called, infectious waste and is defined as a waste capable of transmitting a dangerous communicable disease. Infectious waste includes pathological wastes, such as tissue, organs and body parts, contaminated sharps, biological cultures, blood and blood products in liquid or semiliquid form, laboratory animal carcasses, body parts, bedding, infectious agent stock, and other waste.

According to the Healthcare Environmental Resource Center, there are six types of medical waste that are commonly regulated at the state level, those wastes are.

  1. Pathology and Anatomy Wastes – Definition:  all human anatomical wastes and all wastes that are human tissues, organs, or body parts removed by trauma, during surgery, autopsy, studies, or another hospital procedure, which is intended for disposal. It is important to understand the distinction between anatomical and pathological waste. While both are wastes derived from the human body, pathological wastes are unique in that these are typically samples of tissues that are examined in a laboratory setting to understand the nature of the disease or affliction from which a patient suffers. For the most part, pathological waste refers to very small tissues sections and body material derived from biopsies or surgical procedures that are then examined in the lab. Anatomical wastes are typically distinguished as recognizable human organs, tissue, and body parts, and may require special treatment under some state regulations. Some states do not consider hair, teeth, and nails to be pathological/anatomical waste.

Disposing of Medical Waste Properly

Disposing of Medical Waste: The Basics You Need to Know. Disposing of medical waste is essential for a facility. Whether it’s medicine, sharps or waste from the operating room, this type of waste needs to be identified and disposed of correctly. One of the first steps in properly disposing of medical waste is to understand exactly what you need to dispose of and how. Identifying the medical waste generation points and the types of waste being generated is the first step in proper disposal.

Identifying Medical Waste Generation Points

Unless it is an emergency where someone walks into a facility bleeding, most medical waste generation points do not change, whether it is the patient’s room or a doctor’s office, the generation points of medical waste can be identified beforehand. Once the generation points are identified, the types of medical waste that could potentially be generated can also be identified.

Identifying Medical Waste Types

The most common types of waste found in a typical healthcare or medical setting include.

Sharps Medical Waste – Sharps waste is a form of medical waste which includes any device or object used to puncture or lacerate the skin. Sharps waste is classified as biohazardous waste and must be carefully handled.

Biohazardous Waste – biohazardous waste is any waste containing infectious materials or potentially infectious substances such as blood, or blood-soaked items that when compressed will drip or if dry will flake off.

Trace Chemotherapy Waste – Trace chemotherapy wastes are materials that have come into contact with or may contain only a residual amount of a chemotherapy agent. This includes empty drug bottles or IV bags, as well as gloves and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used during administering chemotherapy drugs.

RCRA Hazardous Waste – is a hazardous waste is a waste that appears on one of the four RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) hazardous wastes lists (the F-list, K-list, P-list, or U-list) or that exhibits one of the four characteristics of a hazardous waste – ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.

Pharmaceutical Waste – Pharmaceutical waste includes a wide variety of items, including over the counter and prescription medications. These wastes come in the form of solid pills and capsules, creams, liquids, and aerosols. Many pharmaceuticals intended for pets are similar or identical to those prescribed to humans and should be treated the same. It can be classified as either hazardous or non-hazardous depending on its chemical properties and its risk to humans and the environment.

Medical Waste Segregation

Disposing of Medical Waste: The Basics You Need to Know. The best way to properly dispose of medical waste is to identify the generation points and the waste types. For each generation point identified, and each medical waste type that could potentially be generated at that point, there should be an appropriate medical waste container designed specifically for that waste type. Segregating medical waste is one of the most important steps in a successful medical waste management program.

Employees that handle medical waste or generate medical waste must be properly trained so they understand what waste, goes in what container. Often the lack of an employees understanding is the cause for improper medical waste disposal, which can lead to hefty fines.

Color Coding System  

The best practice for managing different types of medical waste is using a specific color coding and container system. The most common containers used for segregation include.

Sharps containers: Red colored, sturdy containers that are shatter-proof, leak-proof, and puncture-proof and that can be securely closed. Standard procedures also involve using sealable puncture-proof and leak-proof inner bags that can be sealed.

Biohazard containers: Red colored, sturdy containers that are shatter-proof, leak-proof, and can be securely closed. Since this type of waste may also contain waste that is infectious such as body fluids and blood, standard procedure is to include leak-proof, sealable inner bags. The universal biohazard symbol is placed on the outside of the container.

Trace chemotherapy containers: Yellow colored sturdy containers that can be securely closed. These containers may hold chemical and other types of wastes that may be derived from chemo processes and medications. The universal biohazard symbol is placed on the outside of the container.

RCRA hazardous containers: Black colored sturdy containers that can be securely sealed. These containers are used for RCRA classified hazardous wastes and may hold chemical, infectious, and pathological wastes. A universal biohazardous symbol is placed on the outside of the container.

Pharmaceutical containers: Blue colored sturdy containers that can be securely sealed. These containers can hold liquid and pill form pharmaceutical waste.


Storage of Medical Waste

As per the EPA – Medical wastes requiring storage should be kept in labeled, leak-proof, puncture-resistant containers under conditions that minimize or prevent foul odors. The storage area should be well ventilated and be inaccessible to pests. Any facility that generates regulated medical wastes should have a regulated medical waste management plan to ensure health and environmental safety as per federal, state, and local regulations.

In General, medical waste storage areas should be secured from unauthorized access, properly marked and ventilated, only store medical waste, and must also prevent contact with water, wind, rain, and animals. This area cannot become a breeding ground for rodents and insects.

Length of Time Medical Waste Can Be Stored – The amount of time you can keep medical waste packaged onsite before it is collected for off-site treatment varies by local state regulations.

It is always best to call Healthcare Waste Management or check with your local authorities. In some cases, the clock starts ticking as soon as the biohazard waste container is put in use. For example, you start a new biohazard container at the beginning of the month and your local ordinances require disposal every 30 days meaning that container must be off-site within the 30 days whether it is full or not. In other cases, like sharps containers, there may not be any requirement other than when the container is at the full mark. Then, once full the storage time clock starts ticking.

Healthcare Waste Management

Should you have any questions or would like a quote for your medical waste disposal service contact us at 888-427-5797. At Healthcare Waste Management, we own the trucks that come to your facility, we employ the drivers that come into your facility, and we own the destruction plants that destroy your waste. By having one company handle your waste from ‘cradle-to-grave’ allows us to bring our customers, the best process, products, and services with significant savings compared to the industry standard pricing.

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