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Types of Pharmaceutical Waste

Types of Pharmaceutical Waste

Pharmaceutical waste is any kind of unused, expired, or leftover medications, some over-the-counter products, and the items used in medication treatment and/or delivery. Pharmaceutical waste is generated by any type of healthcare facility or environment that is involved in patient treatment that makes use of pharmaceutical materials. This type of waste is categorized based on the content and chemical properties as hazardous or non-hazardous, with extremely strict state and federal laws on the handling and disposal of each category. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) lists facilities that generate pharmaceutical waste based on the quantity of acute and non-acute hazardous waste generated and are classified as VSQG (very small quantity generators), SQG (small quantity generators), and LQG (large quantity generators). Professional medical waste disposal companies such as Healthcare Waste Management are knowledgeable in the guidelines required by all parties in the states that we service. Proper handling and disposal of pharmaceutical waste is designed to protect people and the environment from potential risks of contamination and transmission of dangerous disease states.

Who oversees Pharmaceutical Waste Regulation?

There are several state and federal organizations involved in the regulation of pharmaceutical waste. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) established the RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) for the handling and disposal of hazardous pharmaceutical waste. The law dictates that all hazardous chemicals, including hazardous pharmaceutical waste be classified and then follow specific handling and disposal procedures. Each state may have guidelines that are more extensive than those created by the EPA regarding the lack of requirement to treat non-RCRA as hazardous waste. It is estimated that only around 5-10% of pharmaceutical products can be included under the classification of RCRA hazardous waste.

Additional agencies that are involved in regulation include DOT (Department of Transportation) that has established strict guidelines for how pharmaceutical waste can be transported to licensed waste management and disposal facilities and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration that is the agency that oversees the management of waste that is classified as controlled substances.

Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

The RCRA has separate hazardous pharmaceutical waste into three specific categories:

Hazard Waste Characteristics Defined:

As per the RCRA guidelines, there are 4 types of hazardous waste characteristics:


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