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6 Classes of Medical Waste



August 12, 2021



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6 Classes of Medical Waste

6 Classes of Medical Waste. A general definition of medical waste is waste that is usually generated in the health care and medical industry that is contaminated or could be contaminated by blood, OPIM (other potentially infectious materials) or body fluids. Medical waste is sometimes referred to as “RMW” (regulated medical waste), infectious waste, or biomedical waste. Each state is responsible for establishing compliance guidelines that include strict instructions for handling, storage, transport, and ultimate safe disposal of medical waste. States also comply with various federal agencies and laws to ensure safety.

Medical Waste Classifications:

A majority of states recognize the six classifications of medical waste as:

1. Pathological and anatomical wastes: All wastes from human organs, tissues, or body parts that have been removed during autopsies, surgeries, or other hospital procedures that have an intension for disposal. Pathological wastes are commonly tissue samples from laboratories that are used in disease studies and are typically small sections of body materials that are from surgical or biopsy situations. Anatomical wastes are commonly identified as human body parts, organs, and tissues that might need special treatment to comply with regulations established by a state. In some states, they exclude teeth, nail, and hair as pathological or anatomical waste.

2. Human blood and blood products: This classification includes bulk human blood and body fluids as well as OPIM (other potentially infectious materials).  OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) defines this group to include waste human blood components, waste human blood, or any products that are derived from blood including but not limited to: plasma, serum, bulk human body fluids such as semen, cerebrospinal fluid, vaginal secretions, pleural fluid, synovial fluid, peritoneal fluid, pericardial fluid, amniotic fluid, saliva from dental procedures, any body fluid that has blood can be visually seen, all body fluids in conditions where it may not be possible to differentiate between body fluids. The classification also includes hematology lab fluid samples, surgery drainage, and any feces or urine that is visually contaminated with blood.

3. Cultures/Stocks of infectious agents: This classification is also called microbiological waste and is aligned with biologicals and microorganisms. These can include but are not limited to: discarded culture dishes, cultures, and any device that is used for the transfer, inoculation, and mix of stocks, cultures, attenuated vaccines, and specimens and any items that are associated with the procedures that may contain organisms that have the potential to be pathogenic to healthy human beings. The category also includes discarded etiologic wastes and agents from biological and antibiotic production that may have been contaminated by organisms that are likely to be pathogenic and any waste that has its origins in research labs or clinical research procedures that are involved in infectious agents that are communicable. It’s important to note that “sharps” are also considered to be microbiological waste however they have a separate definition and requirements for handling and disposal.

4. Sharps: These are any items that contain or may contain agents that are infectious that can penetrate the skin as well as puncture cardboard boxes or waste bags; sharps that have been used in human or animal care, or medical, industrial labs and research. Sharps can include but are not limited to hypodermic needles, Pasteur pipettes, broken glass or plastic, capillary tubes, scalpels, blades, knives, heel lancers, retractable or needles destruction technologies, and needless injection devices. Sharps have specific requirements for handling, packaging, storage, transport, and disposal under DOT (Department of Transportation) and OSHA guidelines.

5. Isolation Waste: These are wastes that are derived from diseases that are highly communicable. Isolation waste may be from discard materials or biological waste that has been contaminated with blood, exudates or secretions from humans or animals, or excretions that are isolated as part of the protection from transmission of highly communicable diseases.

6. Contaminated animal carcasses, bedding, body parts: This is generally referred to as “animal waste” and is any waste that involves animals that might have been exposed to agents that are infectious to healthy humans. Typically, animal waste is generated during the production of biologicals, research, or pharmaceutical testing.


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