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Ways to Dispose of Medical Waste Safely

March 24, 2022

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Ways to Dispose of Medical Waste Safely

Ways to Dispose of Medical Waste Safely. When it comes to medical waste, it’s important that you dispose of it properly.

Medical waste includes things like used needles and other sharps, blood-soiled items, human tissue, infectious or biohazardous materials, and expired or unused medicines.

These types of waste can be hazardous to the environment and even your own health if they’re not disposed of properly.

It is important to know how to dispose of these materials because there are two main ways: by incinerating them or by autoclaving them. Both methods have their pros and cons, but both provide a safe way to dispose of your medical waste.

Why is Medical Waste Regulated?

The reason why medical waste is regulated is largely due to the potential harm it can cause. This type of waste can have a negative impact on the environment and on people’s health, so it’s important that it be processed correctly. When medical waste is not disposed of properly, it can lead to health hazards in areas where people live, work, or play.

Medical items such as needles, and syringes pose a particular risk because they may carry bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis B and C or HIV. Used needles can also transfer these diseases by accidental needle sticks, or onto surfaces if they are not discarded properly.

In addition to being harmful to humans, medical waste can also be harmful to animals if it gets into the wrong places or if animals try to eat it. For example, there was an instance in which a squirrel ate a needle from an animal control officer’s truck and contracted rabies from it.

The two Common Types of Disposal

There are two common ways to dispose of medical waste, incineration, and autoclaving.

Incineration involves burning the waste and turning it into ash. The pro of this method is that the thermal oxidation process effectively eliminates pathogens and destroys viruses by heating the waste to temperatures in excess of 1,000°C. The cons of incineration are, they are expensive to install, and are heavily regulated which creates more expense. There are some medical wastes that must be incinerated.

Autoclaving makes use of pressure and steam heat to sterilize specific types of medical waste. Autoclaving is specifically effective when dealing with microorganisms such as infectious bacteria and viruses and a popular method for medical waste such as sharps and medical equipment and tools. The autoclave process involves a closed chamber, and the infectious items are placed inside where they are exposed to extremely high temperatures. 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.

Some of the Pros of autoclaving are, Economical compared to incinerators, short procedure times, penetrates all surfaces.

Some of the Cons of autoclaving are moisture retention which only makes it ideal for plastics and stainless-steel items that can withstand the high temperature steam sterilization. Steels and other chemicals must use an alternative process.

Medical Waste Disposal, a Closer Look


Incineration is the process of burning items to reduce their volume into a small ash. When it comes to medical waste, incineration is one way to dispose of these substances safely.

The benefit of using an incinerator is that it reduces the volume of the material so it’s easier for disposal. And because it burns the material, it makes them unusable for potential illness or infection.

A disadvantage of incineration is that there are emissions from this process although they are heavily regulated today and must meet pollutant guidelines if something goes wrong, those emissions can cause health problems in some people when they’re near the smoke.

Another downside to this method is that there are chemicals that go into this process and those chemicals could be toxic if inhaled or come in contact with skin.


The pros of autoclaving are that it is a quick process and is more cost-effective. The cons, however, are that you need to have access to a large enough autoclave. Autoclaves come in many sizes and for many different uses. An autoclave for treating medical waste is a greener process than incineration and when the items have become sterilized by steaming and heat, they can be shredded to reduce waste even further.  

How to Dispose of Sharps?

Sharps waste is a medical waste that has an additional hazard, sharps are usually contaminated with pathogens and have the ability to puncture the skin, directly infecting a person with pathogens. Sharps usually are comprised of syringes, needles, lancets, broken glass and any other material that can puncture the skin.

How are sharps collected?

Sharps should be placed in a container specifically designed for the collection and storage of sharps prior to treatment. These containers are approved by the FDA Food and Drug Administration and are built with safeguards in place. They are typically made of a hard plastic and designed to prevent punctures, leaks, or spilling. They are clearly marked with the biohazard symbol and have sealing or locking lids.

How are sharps disposed?

The common methods to dispose of sharps is the same as treating regulated medical waste. Autoclaving, which uses a timed, high-temperature, high-pressure steaming process to neutralize any infectious agents, is the most common method.

Incineration comes into play when the sharps have been used for chemotherapy treatments and there are trace chemo amounts left, those must be incinerated. 

Reusable Sharps Containers, a greener approach to sharps disposal is by opting for the reusable sharps container. In this process, it keeps the sharps container out of the landfill by going through the normal autoclave treatment methods and then another wash treatment making it safe and available to be used again. The sharps themselves still get treated and disposed of after being shredded and not recognizable. 

A Greener Approach to Medical Waste Disposal

Besides reusable medical waste containers which keeps a great deal of waste out of the landfill, shredded autoclaved medical waste can be taken to a waste-to-energy facility where it is used as a fuel source to generate energy completely making use of the medical waste. A great step to zero waste.

How to Handle and Dispose of Blood-Soaked Items?


Regulated Waste as defined by OSHA means liquid or semi-liquid blood or other potentially infectious materials; contaminated items that would release blood or other potentially infectious materials in a liquid or semi-liquid state if compressed; items that are caked with dried blood or other potentially infectious materials and are capable of releasing these materials during handling; contaminated sharps; and pathological and microbiological wastes containing blood or other potentially infectious materials.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) CFR 1910.1030 which is part of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards, states.

All occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials defined as, Blood which means human blood, human blood components, and products made from human blood. Other Potentially Infectious Materials means, the following human body fluids: semen, vaginal secretions, cerebrospinal fluid, synovial fluid, pleural fluid, pericardial fluid, peritoneal fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva in dental procedures, any body fluid that is visibly contaminated with blood, and all body fluids in situations where it is difficult or impossible to differentiate between body fluids. Any unfixed tissue or organ (other than intact skin) from a human (living or dead); and HIV-containing cell or tissue cultures, organ cultures, and HIV- or HBV-containing culture medium or other solutions; and blood, organs, or other tissues from experimental animals infected with HIV or HBV.

When handling or collecting blood-soaked items, Universal precautions shall be observed to prevent contact with blood or other potentially infectious materials. Under circumstances in which differentiation between body fluid types is difficult or impossible, all body fluids shall be considered potentially infectious materials.

Engineering and work practice controls shall be used to eliminate or minimize employee exposure. Where occupational exposure remains after institution of these controls, personal protective equipment shall also be used.

When there is occupational exposure, the employer shall provide, at no cost to the employee, appropriate personal protective equipment such as, but not limited to, gloves, gowns, laboratory coats, face shields or masks and eye protection, and mouthpieces, resuscitation bags, pocket masks, or other ventilation devices. Personal protective equipment will be considered “appropriate” only if it does not permit blood or other potentially infectious materials to pass through to or reach the employee’s work clothes, street clothes, undergarments, skin, eyes, mouth, or other mucous membranes under normal conditions of use and for the duration of time which the protective equipment will be used.

The employer shall ensure that the employee uses appropriate personal protective equipment unless the employer shows that the employee temporarily and briefly declined to use personal protective equipment when, under rare and extraordinary circumstances, it was the employee’s professional judgment that in the specific instance its use would have prevented the delivery of health care or public safety services or would have posed an increased hazard to the safety of the worker or co-worker. When the employee makes this judgement, the circumstances shall be investigated and documented in order to determine whether changes can be instituted to prevent such occurrences in the future.

Employers shall provide handwashing facilities which are readily accessible to employees. When provision of handwashing facilities is not feasible, the employer shall provide either an appropriate antiseptic hand cleanser in conjunction with clean cloth/paper towels or antiseptic towelettes. When antiseptic hand cleansers or towelettes are used, hands shall be washed with soap and running water as soon as feasible.

Employers shall ensure that employees wash hands and any other skin with soap and water, or flush mucous membranes with water immediately or as soon as feasible following contact of such body areas with blood or other potentially infectious materials.

The most common ways to dispose of these types of waste is by autoclaving them. The disposal process starts the moment a blood-soaked item is produces, understanding and implementing OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard 1910.1030 will go a long way in keeping your facility safe.

When the blood-soaked item is generated, it is the safely handled using engineering controls and work practice controls then placed in the red biohazard bag or bin, once the bin is full it will be sealed and placed in a clearly marked storage area until your next medical waste pickup by your medical waste management company, from there it will go to a treatment plant and its final destination. 

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.


Health Care Without Harm – HCWH (2014) FOR PROPER DISPOSAL: Accessed March 22, 2022.

WHO – World Health Organization, Injection Safety Accessed March 22, 2022.

OSHA – 1910.1030 Bloodborne pathogens. Accessed March 22, 2022.

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