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What Happens to Medical Waste?



November 10, 2021



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What Happens to Medical Waste?

What Happens to Medical Waste? Medical waste is defined as healthcare waste that that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials and is often referred to as regulated medical waste. Any generator of medical waste must comply with state and federal laws for the specific type of medical waste, and each type has specific guidelines. The facility that generates medical waste is responsible for proper handling, collection, segregation, storage, and record keeping of its destruction.

Segregation at Generation

Any location that generates medical waste is required to understand the process of segregating according to the waste type. In most general healthcare settings medical waste typically falls under six categories and is segregated accordingly at the generation point using the correct color-coded containers.  

Sharps Waste

Biohazard Waste

Non-Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

Hazardous Pharmaceuticals

Dual Waste Hazardous and Infectious Pharmaceuticals

RCRA Empty <3% Remains

What Happens to Medical Waste? Generators of medical waste are required to ensure that the medical waste is placed in the correct container, to ensure the proper destruction method is used so that they don’t pose risks for humans, the community, and the environment. The guidelines for medical waste containers include.

Sharps containers are usually red in color with the biohazard symbol and the words sharps container printed on them. They are made of a puncture-resistant and leak-proof container, with a one-way top used to dispose of sharps, that can be sealed when full.

Biohazard containers are red in color and are identified with the biohazard symbol on the front. These containers are for infectious and potentially infectious waste that may include but are not limited to bodily fluids and blood.

Pharmaceutical containers are blue in color and are for pharmaceutical waste that can include expired, contaminated, or unused medications.

RCRA hazardous containers are black in color and are for pharmaceutical wastes defined as hazardous under RCRA, which can include but are not limited to D, U, and P listed pharmaceuticals, Antineoplastic, Mercury, and Chemical Sterilizing Agents.

Dual Waste Containers are purple in color and are for Hazardous and Infectious waste such as Syringes, bulk pharmaceuticals, ampoules with meds, live vaccines, syringe, or vial with RCRA or P listed pharmaceuticals.

Trace chemotherapy containers are yellow in color and hold RCRA empty syringes, vials, IV bags where less than 3% remains in a chemical and other forms of RCRA medical waste.

How Medical Waste is Stored and Transported

Segregation of medical waste moves it to the next phase when the containers are full and that is storage. Storage areas at a facility should be carefully selected so that the waste containers do not come in contact with any other products and are not accessible by the public. This area should be clearly marked with the biohazard symbol and accessible only by authorized personnel.

The containers should be stored so that they cannot be easily knocked over or spilled. Make sure the storage area is secure and, in a location, to protect it from theft, vandalism, inadvertent human or animal exposure, rain, water, and wind. Keep the storage area clean and well-ventilated so that it does not become a breeding ground for insects or rodents and does not generate noxious odors.

Most states have a specific amount of time that medical waste can be stored at a generator’s facility. If you are unsure of your state’s requirements, contact Healthcare Waste Management Today.

 A medical waste disposal vendor will have specific pickup dates/times, arrive with vehicles that are designed for medical waste disposal, and will remove the medical waste safely from your facility.

Types of Medical Waste Treatments and Disposal

Once the medical waste disposal company has removed the waste from the facility each container will be treated and/or disposed of based on the type of medical waste to ensure total and full decontamination. Some types of treatments include:

Autoclaving, a combination of high temperatures and pressure to completely destroy the medical waste.

Irradiative: exposure to gamma rays that are fatal to viruses and bacteria.

Chemical treatments, also known as biological or enzyme treatments: chemical disinfectants that render the medical waste harmless.

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.

Once the medical waste has been treated using the appropriate method it is decontaminated and is harmless. Any residue can be shredded or placed safely in landfills, or both.


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