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Medical Waste: What is It?

July 28, 2021

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Medical Waste: What is It?

Medical Waste: What is It? Medical waste is a type of waste that is typically generated by the medical industry such as hospitals, clinics, veterinarians, dentists, laboratories/research facilities, blood banks, and pharmacies. However, there are organizations that can generate medical waste such as funeral homes, coroner’s offices, tattoo parlors and body piercing companies. Medical waste is waste that contains or may contain contamination by body fluids, blood, or OPIM (other potentially infectious materials) and is sometimes called regulated medical waste. Medical waste is typically dealt with by contracting with a professional and licensed medical waste management company such as Healthcare Waste Management.


There are specific state and federal guidelines and laws that govern the handling, storage, transport, and destruction of RMW waste. Various states may have guidelines that differ, but most medical waste is regulated by the individual state environment and health departments. Other organizations that dictate laws for medical waste include but are not limited to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, FDA (U.S. Food and Drug and Administration), and CDC (Centers for Disease Control).  Professional medical disposal companies such as Healthcare Waste Management assist clients in compliance with all state and federal laws.

Types of Waste

RMW is divided into six types:

Treatment and Disposal


Sharps injuries have historically been the source of the transmission of infectious diseases. Improper disposal of sharps can cause harm to people, animals, and the environment. Sharps are required to be placed in an FDA-cleared sharps container that is rigid and has a smaller top enclosure so that only the sharps can enter. The container must be leak-proof, puncture-proof, and have a sealable lid/top. Due to the dangers, sharps must be disposed of using a professional waste management company such as Healthcare Waste Management for proper disposal. Sharps are typically treated using an autoclave method which involves high temperature steam and pressure.

Other Methods

Prior to 1997, approximately 90% of all RMW that has the potential to carry infectious diseases were incinerated. However, in 1997 the EPA instituted new regulations for emission standards for waste incinerators as a method to curb the pollution effects in the air. There are some states that still use incineration for some RMW destruction, however, many have changed to alternatives for rendering medical waste harmless.

Alternative Medical Waste Destruction Methods

In addition to the autoclaving mentioned above, there are options for medical waste destruction other than incineration including:


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