Medical waste is a type of waste that is usually generated by the healthcare community. This subset of wastes may contain or potentially contain agents and pathogens that are contaminated and be infectious to people, animals, and the environment. Some medical waste is also called “regulated medical waste” or RMW as well as PIMW, “potentially infectious medical waste”. There are strict state and federal guidelines that govern the handling, storage, transportation, and destruction of these types of waste. RMW/PIMW are required by law to be collected, transported, and destroyed so that it is rendered harmless by a licensed and professional medical waste disposal company such as Healthcare Waste Management.
While most medical waste is generated within medical facilities, there are a number of sources that create medical waste including but not limited to: hospitals, clinics, physician offices, dentists, veterinarians, laboratories, pharmacies, funeral homes, coroners’ offices, parks and recreation, tattoo parlors and body piercing companies.
Medical Waste Categories
To ensure safety and proper handling and disposal, medical waste has been divided into four categories:
Infectious Waste: is any waste form that can potentially pose an infection threat to humans, animals, or the environment through the transmission of an infectious disease. Infectious waste can include but is not limited to such items as waste that is contaminated with body fluids and blood, stocks and cultures that contain infectious agents, body parts and tissues from humans or animals that are infectious, waste such as bandages, swabs, and disposable medical devices from infectious patients, and any item used in surgery with an infectious patient. In some cases, some infectious waste is also labeled as “pathological waste” as it could contain pathogens.
Hazardous Waste: any item that has the ability to affect humans or animals in methods that are non-infectious. Hazardous waste can include but is not limited to things such as medical or industrial chemicals, expired medications, sharps such as needles, blades, scalpels, and broken glass or plastic. Hazardous waste is required to comply with state and federal laws for handling, storage, transportation, and destruction by a licensed waste removal service such as Healthcare Waste Management.
Radioactive Waste: This is waste that is created from nuclear medicine treatments, medical equipment that uses radioactive isotopes, and cancer therapies. Any pathological waste that is contaminated with radioactive material is also classified as radioactive waste. Radiation has numerous health risks for people, animals, and the environment and requires that this waste me removed by a knowledgeable and professional waste removal company such as Healthcare Waste Management to comply with the laws.
General Waste: A majority of medical waste is included in this category and it’s the type that doesn’t pose any health hazards or risks. This waste can be disposed of in the same method as standard trash. It includes but is not limited to items such as harmless liquids, plastics, paper, and anything else that doesn’t fall into the other three categories.
Medical Waste Types Within Categories
For the purpose of safe handling and destruction, it was necessary to create an even more in-depth list of medical waste types. Each of the medical waste types has specific rules for handling, labeling, storage, and destruction prior to being placed in a safe landfill.
Sharps: This is any item that contains or potentially contains a transmittable pathogen that can cut the skin. Sharps can be involved in care or treatment of humans or animals as well as research laboratories and medical facilities. Sharps include but are not limited to: hypodermic needles, broken glass or plastic, syringes, scalpels, blades, knives, and blood specimen tubes.
Infectious agent stocks and cultures or any that may have been involved in associated biologicals: These can include but are not limited to cultures and stocks of infectious agents from labs, research and medical lab specimen cultures, wastes from biological production, live and attenuated vaccines that have been discarded, culture dishes and devices that have been used to mix, transfer, or inoculate cultures.
Liquid human blood: In bulk, as blood products, blood products, liquid waste human blood, any item that has been saturated with blood or has the potential to drip or leak blood, plasma, serum, or other components of blood.
Pathological wastes: Any biological item that includes but is not limited to: animal or human body parts- whether removed during surgery or autopsy, tissues, body fluids. Exceptions to this are teeth, excreta, feces, and corpses and body parts that have been designated for cremation or internment.
Isolation wastes can include but is not limited to wastes that have been contaminated with blood, exudates, secretions isolated to protect from infectious diseases that have been identified as viruses that are assigned to CDC Biosafety Level 4.
Animal waste that has been contaminated or may have been contaminated that can include but is not limited to: animal carcasses, body parts, fluids and bedding of infected animals or those that are suspect of being infected with zoonotic disease or that have been deliberately infected with agents during research or experimentation that have been deliberately produced or have been involved in vivo pharmaceutical testing.
Unused or expired medications or vaccines, including injectables and pills.
Radiotherapy liquid, lab research liquid, glassware, or supplies that have been contaminated with the liquid.
Genotoxic waste: Any medical waste that is mutagenic, carcinogenic or teratogenic, including cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment.
Disinfectants or solvents used in laboratory settings, or heavy metals or batteries from equipment such as thermometer mercury.
Non-medical waste: This is waste that is generated in a healthcare environment but does not pose a threat for the transmission of infectious diseases. These can include but are not limited to items that are lightly soiled that may have come in contact with infectious agents but are not likely to assist in transmission of infection to people, animals, or the environment as any infection has been confined in the waste material.
The 1988 Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) was created after a “medical waste garbage slick” washed up on the beaches of some of the East Coast states. Much of this garbage contained used hypodermic needles and items that were involved in potentially contagious diseases. Until that time there wasn’t any form of regulation for medical waste which put people, animals, and the environment at great risk.
The MWTA was a federal government situation designed to create strict model guidelines and strategies for the handling, storage, transportation, and ultimate safe destruction and disposal of medical waste. The guidelines were then handed to each individual state so that they could create their own compliance laws that matched those of the MWTA. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was initially involved in establishing some guidelines and later relinquished most of the control to individual states.
There continues to be various federal agencies involved in medical waste regulations. These agencies include but are not limited to: DOT (Department of Transportation), CDC (Centers for Disease Control), OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), and FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). The EPA is still involved in compliance requirements as it relates to incinerator emission requirements.
Medical Waste Treatment and Disposal
Each type of medical waste must comply with specific rules for handling, storage, treatment and disposal. The guidelines are established by the individual states in conjunction with the various federal agencies.
Specific attention is given to medical waste that presents dangers and requires special treatment and disposal such as those for sharps.
Disposal and Treatment of Sharps: Accidents from sharps are the cause of many incidents that pose a risk for the transmission of diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Guidelines for safe handling, storage and disposal are very specific for sharps. There are FDA-referred containers for storage that are required to be sturdy, leak-proof, puncture-proof, have a small top opening so that only the sharps can enter, and have top that can be sealed. The containers are required to be labeled with the universal biohazard symbol and be able to stand during transportation by a licensed and professional medical waste disposal company such as Healthcare Waste Management. For private use, the FDA recommends containers such as laundry detergent bottles that can be taken to approved community drop-off points or to hospitals that may have their own autoclaving facilities.
Medical Waste Incineration: Prior to 1997, nearing 90% of PIMW (potentially infectious medical waste) was treated through the incineration process. However, in August, 1997, the EPA imposed improved regulations that created more stringent emission standards for those that had incinerators used for medical waste. The purpose of the new rules was to protect human health with better air quality and reduce the potential of dangers due to the incinerators. While some states still incinerate medical waste, more states are making changes to their requirements to reduce or completely eliminate incineration as a medical waste destruction option.
Other Medical Waste Treatment and Disposal Technologies include:
Steam sterilization such as autoclaving that uses high temperature steam processes.
Thermal treatment, such as technologies involving microwaves.
Electro Pyrolysis: decomposition of materials by elevated thermal temperatures in an inert atmosphere. In this case it changes the chemical composition to a safe material.
Chemical mechanical systems: Involves adding chemicals to the medical waste to destroy any infectious materials. This process cannot be used in some circumstances as the chemicals added can create a different toxicity.
The EPA governs the technologies for medical waste treatment that claim to reduce the waste infectiousness. The rules and guidelines are derived from FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
Why Compliance is Important
Compliance of the laws and guidelines for both state and federal levels is critical for any generator of medical waste. There are a variety of licenses and applications as well as maintaining complete records in the case of an audit. To maintain safety, OSHA requires that all staff and employees be completely trained on their particular job function.
Lack of compliance can result in fines and penalties per incident and often compound to the point of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many larger organizations have specific staff devoted to ensuring that their company complies with all regulations, including maintaining safety factors, permit applications, and record-keeping.
The Benefits of Using Healthcare Waste Management
The sheer volume of guidelines that change from state to state for medical waste can be overwhelming for any medical organization. Healthcare Waste Management has a team of experts that are knowledgeable on all laws for each state that is serviced. As a professional medical waste management company, we work with our clients to act as consultants to help design best practices in their facilities, offering many services to ensure that they remain compliant and safe.
As a premier medical waste management company servicing ten states in the Midwest, we bring decades of experience and assurance for our clients that are cost-effective and budget conscious:
Company owned and operated trucks
Company owned and operated licensed disposal facilities
Consultant services for clients
Medical waste destruction facilities that meet the requirements of each state we service
All drivers and staff are employees of Healthcare Waste Management
Offer FDA-referred supplies to our clients including containers, labels, lockable cabinets for documents awaiting shredding
OSHA-approved online staff training
Certificates of proof of destruction supplied to clients for audit or legal needs
Online customer login portal for communication
Online compliance login
Online Medical Waste Regulations portal
Partnered with organizations for green effort for recycling
Flexible scheduling for single or multiple pickups
In today’s world that involves so many regulations and guidelines, it makes sense to have peace of mind and use Healthcare Waste Management for your medical waste disposal needs