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Medical Waste Disposal: The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid

March 17, 2022

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Medical Waste Disposal: The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid

Medical Waste Disposal: The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid. Medical waste management is an intricate industry that requires generators of medical waste and medical waste disposal companies to understand and follow the set of rules and regulations from the different federal and state agencies that oversee the generation and disposal of medical waste.

There are many mistakes’ businesses can make when it comes to medical waste disposal, but there are some common ones we’d like to mention. For example, not following the set time frames for safe disposal could lead to fines from regulatory agencies. Or you may forget to label your collection containers according to what they contain, which means that your medical waste won’t be disposed of properly, might not be disinfected properly, and it will cost you more money in the long run. These are just two examples of how mistakes can put a company at risk for fines or lawsuits. Avoid these common mistakes by reading this article and learning how you can prevent them from happening in your business.

Medical Waste Disposal: The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid

There are many complicated rules and regulations that govern the medical waste disposal industry, so it’s easy for a business to make mistakes. For instance, forgetting to label containers appropriately or disposing of materials late can lead to fines from regulatory agencies. Another mistake businesses can make is not following the set time frames for safe disposal. When disposing of medical waste, there are specific time limits in which it needs to be disposed of, especially if you plan on sending it off-site. For example, regulated medical waste in Michigan cannot be on-site for longer than 90 days, and the clock starts ticking as soon as the waste container is put into use, not when it is full. If you don’t follow these regulations, you may end up facing fines from regulatory agencies.

Where do I Start?

Medical Waste Disposal: The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid. The first thing you need to do is identify common generation points of medical waste and other regulated waste streams, after you know where the waste will be generated, you will want to make sure an appropriate color-coded container is placed in that area and is easily accessible. If you have any questions on this you should talk to your medical waste disposal company, they should be able to handle all regulated waste types you generate and have the containers you need. They will have all the information you need to know and can help you understand what type of disposal is best for your waste streams.

What are the Different Regulatory Requirements?

The first and most important thing to understand is that there are different sets of regulatory requirements for the waste you generate, depending on where your business is located. For example, sharps waste has specific containers compared to normal red bag waste, the regulations are different on how to collect and store sharps waste vs. red bag waste.  There are six different categories of regulated waste, that is generally regulated in most states. If you have any questions, contact us for your specific state’s regulations.  

  1. Human blood and blood products, or items contaminated with blood that will release contaminates when compressed or flake off when handled in the case of dried blood.
  2. Sharps, any item with sharp points or edges that can puncture or cut skin.
  3. Cultures and stocks of infectious agents.
  4. Pathological waste.
  5. Isolation waste.
  6. Contaminated animal carcasses, body parts and bedding.

What is the Right Way to Dispose of Medical Waste?

Regulations around how to dispose of medical waste are in place to protect against infectious diseases and promote public health. That’s not all though, improperly disposing of medical waste can also affect the environment and possibly cost your company money through fines and lawsuits. There are four main components to proper disposal:

Proper segregation at generation points. This is arguably the most important step in the process. A regulated waste that has been improperly classified can have many adverse effects, including the waste not being properly treated and still being infectious, because the wrong treatment method was used, because the waste was placed in the wrong container.  

Collection Containers: Most collection containers are labeled and color-coded to easily identify the type of waste and the disposal process. The below information is the general color-coding system used, always read the container, or call us should you have any questions.

Grey – non-hazardous, regular trash

Red – blood, tissue, and sharp wastes

Yellow – clinical waste that is infectious

Orange – anything that is highly infectious

Blue – pharmaceuticals and medicines

Black – RCRA-hazardous

Purple – cytotoxic medicines

White – waste from a dental source

Storage, 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.

Disposal, Medical waste should be disposed of via a licensed medical waste disposal company. This means it will travel by truck to a disposal facility that is licensed by the state and meets certain regulation requirements for treating medical waste. This ensures that the waste has been treated properly before its final destination and therefore poses no risk to public health or the environment.

Common Disposal Methods

Specific destruction methods are required for each type of medical waste. Below are some common methods used to treat medical waste.

Incineration: The incinerators used for medical waste operate at temperatures around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, which reduces the medical waste to harmless ash that can be safely placed in a landfill. The incineration process is for specific types of waste that are required by law to be incinerated. Most medical waste today is treated using an alternative method.

Autoclaving: A method that uses chemicals and/or heat at 300 degrees Fahrenheit to sterilize the medical waste. Some medical waste cannot be autoclaved using chemicals as the addition of the chemicals changes some metallic substances so that they are toxic and/or combustible. In those cases, incineration is the only option for destruction.

Microwave Treatment, Microwave disinfection works only when there is water in the waste. because the radiation directly works on the water, not the solid components of the waste.

Irradiation: A method using gamma rays to disinfect by killing bacteria. It employs radioactive isotope of cobalt and is similar to the same radiation used for cancer treatments.

Pharmaceuticals/Medication: For unused, old, or expired medications, some states have medication take back programs. These programs are at specific locations and are guarded by law enforcement. Liquid medications cannot be accepted for the take back programs. It is unlawful to place any medications in private or public water systems for disposal. Many of the medications do not degrade naturally and contain elements that are hazardous for the environment and can be toxic for individuals and animals.

Proper Disposal of Sharps Waste

One of the most common mistakes that companies make when it comes to medical waste disposal is improper handling of sharps, or needles. Sharps should be disposed of in a way that prevents accidental contact with employees, other people, and animals alike. This means that sharps should not be placed into the regular red biohazard bag, box, container, or regular trash. They should always be placed into a sharps container. This can include a hard plastic container with a lid (found in any pharmacy) or a puncture-proof metal or plastic container (found at most medical supply stores). The container is typically puncture-proof and is used for disposing of syringes, needles, intravenous tubing, and other products made from materials which may have sharp edges. These containers are important for containing sharps waste so that it doesn’t come into contact with people who could accidentally prick themselves on these items.

What ‘not’ to do with Pharmaceutical Waste

If a facility disposes of pharmaceuticals incorrectly, dangerous chemicals can enter the surrounding environment and contaminate lakes, rivers, seas, groundwater, drinking water, plant life and even fish. Eventually, this may cause health problems in the community. Improper disposal methods can include washing drugs down sinks, flushing them down toilets, throwing them away in the regular trash or comingling hazardous pharmaceutical waste with non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste.

The best way to dispose of most types of unused or expired medicines (both prescription and over the counter) is to drop off the medicine at a drug take back site, location, or program immediately. Here is a link to permanent collection sites on the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration.

Another mistake businesses make is placing regulated waste in the wrong containers, containers belong to specific types of medical waste to aid in proper segregation. Using one container for multiple types of medical waste (e.g., sharps and red bag waste) puts employees at risk by exposing them to hazardous materials and spreading diseases like HIV or hepatitis C through contact with needles contaminated with other people’s blood, needles without any protection from using the proper container can cause accidental needle sticks. If this happens in a healthcare setting, it could lead to severe consequences.


All healthcare providers will produce medical waste at some point. Whether it’s a small office or a large hospital, it is important to follow the right protocols, procedures, and regulations when it comes to handling, storing, and disposing of medical waste.

One of the most important aspects of medical waste disposal is understanding what types of waste you are dealing with. Proper training on your facilities policies, local, state, and federal regulations will ensure that your facility is doing everything it can to successfully manage your medical waste streams.

About Healthcare Waste Management

We provide medical waste generators with a single source management solution, from compliance training to the actual treatment of your medical waste. We are truly a full-service company.

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. We do this while reducing our client’s impact on the environment which is a true win-win. Best processes, pricing and practices is what we built our company on.

We use a state-of-the-art reusable container system for medical waste and sharps waste that keeps unnecessary waste from impacting the environment. Our cradle-to-grave management process, reusable medical waste and sharps disposal containers, fuel efficient trucks and intelligent routing are all examples of our commitment to our customers and the environment.

Unlike other companies, who may not even haul the waste themselves, to companies who only haul your waste and then must turn it over to a third party for treatment. Healthcare Waste Management takes full responsibility from the moment we collect the waste onsite, until treatment. The waste never leaves our chain of command until it is made safe.


U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. –  Drug take Back Locations. Accessed March 17, 2022.

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