What Happens to My Medical Waste? Medical waste can transmit various diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and other various pathogen illnesses. It’s important to take precautions when disposing of medical waste to keep our community safe. In the United States alone, each year there are over 600 million tons of medical waste that requires disposing. This does not include small quantity generators of medical waste. What happens to this trash? Where does it go? And what can we do to dispose of it properly? Below we will outline the journey medical waste takes from start to finish.
Medical waste is a term used to describe waste from the medical industry. Regulated medical waste is waste which deems unsafe to dispose of in the regular trash. Generally, medical waste is healthcare waste that that may be contaminated by blood, body fluids or other potentially infectious materials. Often referred to as regulated medical waste. This includes things like needles, syringes, bandages, dressings, contaminated protective gowns, and other items that can’t be thrown away with regular trash.
Medical waste is generated in many ways. First, when a needle is used in a healthcare setting to draw blood, the needle must be disposed of as regulated medical waste “sharps”. Other medical wastes are generated in medical facilities such as gloves, masks, gowns, and lab coats. Medical waste can also come from other sources not necessarily medical facilities, tattoo parlors, body piercing shops, and MedSpas are all examples of an otherwise normal business (not involved in healthcare) that generates medical waste.
Medical waste is collected by a healthcare facility and then a medical waste disposal provider will collect the waste from the storage room for treatment. Segregating medical waste is the first critical step and needs to be done where the medical waste is generated. Identifying the various types of biomedical waste assists in the segregation process. Each waste type must be separated and placed in the appropriate containers using safe practices to ensure that there isn’t a risk of contamination or infection. It’s critical to use the right containers for each type of waste so that storage, collection, and transport can be done safely.
The most common containers used for segregation include:
Sharps containers: Red colored, sturdy containers that are shatter-proof, leak-proof, and puncture-proof and that can be securely closed. Standard procedures also involve using sealable puncture-proof and leak-proof inner bags that can be sealed.
Biohazard containers: Red colored, sturdy containers that are shatter-proof, leak-proof, and can be securely closed. Since this type of waste may also contain waste that is infectious such as body fluids and blood, standard procedure is to include leak-proof, sealable inner bags. The universal biohazard symbol is placed on the outside of the container.
Trace chemotherapy containers: Yellow colored sturdy containers that can be securely closed. These containers may hold chemical and other types of wastes that may be derived from chemo processes and medications. The universal biohazard symbol is placed on the outside of the container.
RCRA hazardous containers: Black colored sturdy containers that can be securely sealed. These containers are used for RCRA classified hazardous wastes and may hold chemical, infectious, and pathological wastes. A universal biohazardous symbol is placed on the outside of the container.
Pharmaceutical containers: Blue colored sturdy containers that can be securely sealed. These containers can hold liquid and pill form pharmaceutical waste.
Proper handling and disposal of medical waste is necessary to prevent infection and protect the environment. OSHA and State EPA programs require that medical waste be properly labeled, stored, and disposed of.
OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) BBP (Bloodborne Pathogens Standard) has a variety of requirements for staff/volunteers that include full communication for many of the areas of medical waste such as labeling, storage, and containment. The BBP specifically sets requirements for a facility to:
Health and safety training should include full compliance with all regulatory conditions. Generators should also establish procedures for compliance training, incident reporting, SDS management, OSHA safety audits. Additional training recommended should include HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and DOT regulatory requirements.
The Bloodborne Pathogens Standard indicates that a biohazard label is required to be affixed to all equipment and work areas that contain infectious agents, human blood or OPIM (other potentially infectious materials) as well as on all the containers for biological waste. The warning label that has the universal “biohazard symbol” must also include the word “biohazard,” and must be on all containers and bags associated with the biohazard waste.
In addition to bags and containers, the biohazard symbol and word must be placed on any laundry that is contaminated, on freezers and refrigerators that are used for OPIM or blood storage, and on storage bags/containers for biohazard materials for storage, transport, shipping, and disposal of OPIM or blood. All equipment that may be contaminated that is shipped or services must have an easily readable word of “biohazard” along with the biohazard symbol and a statement indicating which portions of the equipment may be contaminated.
The use of orange-red or fluorescent orange as a background color for biohazard labels is required with lettering and symbols in contrasting color so that it’s easy to read. The label is required to be either an integral container part or affixed to the container with adhesive, wire, or string, or any method that can guarantee that the label will not be lost of removed unintentionally.
We are going to recap our story of what happens to my medical waste. In this story let’s say you had to go get a blood draw for some test to be performed. After the nurse drew your blood, they placed the needles in the sharps container, properly segregating it, when that sharps container gets full in the exam room a trained medical staff personal whether from the housekeeping division or janitorial staff, they will remove the full container and replace it with a new one. That container is then transported to a storage area in the medical facility, specifically designed to store regulated medical waste.
As per the EPA – Medical wastes requiring storage should be kept in labeled, leak-proof, puncture-resistant containers under conditions that minimize or prevent foul odors. The storage area should be well ventilated and be inaccessible to pests. Any facility that generates regulated medical wastes should have a regulated medical waste management plan to ensure health and environmental safety as per federal, state, and local regulations.
In General, medical waste storage areas should be secured from unauthorized access, properly marked and ventilated, only store medical waste, and must also prevent contact with water, wind, rain, and animals. This area cannot become a breeding ground for rodents and insects.
Length of Time Medical Waste Can Be Stored – The amount of time you can keep medical waste packaged onsite before it is collected for off-site treatment varies by local state regulations.
It is always best to call Healthcare Waste Management or check with your local authorities. In some cases, the clock starts ticking as soon as the biohazard waste container is put in use. For example, you start a new biohazard container at the beginning of the month and your local ordinances require disposal every 30 days meaning that container must be off-site within the 30 days whether it is full or not. In other cases, like sharps containers, there may not be any requirement other than when the container is at the full mark. Then, once full the storage time clock starts ticking.
The U.S. DOT regulations designate infectious and potentially infectious medical waste as a division 6.2 hazard class. Division 6.2 hazard class does not have a placarding requirement like most other U.S. DOT hazardous materials. For medical waste, an infectious substance label is not required on an outer packaging if the OSHA biohazard marking is used as prescribed in 29 CFR 1910.1030(g). A bulk package of medical waste must display the biohazard marking shown to the right.
Under the U.S. DOT regulations, the shipper offering regulated medical waste for transport is responsible for the waste until it reaches its final destination. Moreover, to ensure safe handling, the U.S. DOT regulations requires all employees packaging medical waste for shipment and/or signing shipping papers to have function specific, safety, and awareness training to ensure compliance with the U.S. DOT requirements for shipping medical waste.
The training must be documented and made available for inspection at the producing facility along with the shipping records.
Different treatment methods are needed for different types of medical waste. State regulations dictate which type of treatment is necessary for specific types of biohazardous waste. Weather it is trace chemo waste, pathological waste, blood, body fluids, tissues, and other potentially infectious materials.
Medical waste treatment means to eliminate the waste’s hazards, and to make the waste unrecognizable. Treatment should render the waste safe for subsequent handling and disposal. There are several treatment methods that can accomplish this.
An autoclave uses steam and pressure to sterilize the waste or reduce its microbiological load to a level at which it may be safely disposed of. Many healthcare facilities routinely use an autoclave to sterilize medical devices. If the same autoclave is used to sterilize supplies and treat biomedical waste, administrative controls must be used to prevent the waste operations from contaminating the supplies. Effective administrative controls include operator training, strict procedures, and separate times and space for processing medical waste.
Microwave disinfection can also be employed for treatment of medical wastes. Microwave irradiation is a type of non-contact heating technologies for disinfection. Microwave chemistry is based on efficient heating of materials by microwave dielectric heating effects. When exposed to microwave frequencies, the dipoles of the water molecules present in cells re-align with the applied electric field. As the field oscillates, the dipoles attempt to realign itself with the alternating electric field and in this process, energy is lost in the form of heat through molecular friction and dielectric loss.
Chemical Decontamination is the use of specific chemicals to render the biohazardous materials harmless. Some biohazard waste cannot be treated using chemical decontamination because the addition of the chemicals can create an alternative toxin.
Incineration is a process of burning specific types of biohazard wastes which include pathological, trace chemotherapy and non-hazardous pharmaceutical wastes. It is considered to be one of the safest methods of treatments as it prevents harm to the health of the population and the environment.
Whatever your need is for medical or biohazardous waste disposal services, from questions to a free quote, we can help. We love talking to our customers and potential customers alike and are always happy to help wherever we can. 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.
OSHA 1910.1030 – Bloodborne pathogens. Standards, Occupational Safety. Accessed 3-1-22. https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.1030
Healthcare Environmental Resource Center – Types of Regulated Medical Waste. Accessed 3-1-22. https://www.hercenter.org/rmw/rmwtypes.php
Join thousands of other practices working with HWM.
"The only company you will ever need."