The Journey Medical Waste Takes

The Journey Medical Waste Takes

Medical waste is defined on many levels and the packaging, care, storage, and disposal is referred to as “cradle-to-grave.” This means that everyone, at every step, is required to comply with state and federal laws for each type of medical waste, and each type has specific guidelines. The facility that has medical waste is responsible for all phases of the medical waste journey.


Any location that is involved in medical waste is required to understand the process of segregating according to type. Bio-medical waste typically falls under eight categories, and is segregated accordingly at the facility using the correct containers for each type:

  • General waste: paperwork, food waste, packaging materials, etc.
  • Radioactive waste: contaminated glassware and other waste from radiotherapy or lab research
  • Pharmaceutical waste: unused, expired or contaminated medications
  • Sharps: scalpels, needles, scissors, etc.
  • Pathological waste: organs, tissues and body parts
  • Infectious waste: items capable of transmitting an infection
  • Chemical waste: cleaning agents, lab reagents and similar chemicals
  • Pressurized containers: cylinders containing pressurized gas

Containers for Medical Waste:

Facilities are required to ensure that medical waste is placed in the correct container types so that they don’t pose risks for humans, the community, and the environment and are disposed of properly. The guidelines for medical waste containers include:

  • 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.
  • Sharps containers are usually also red in color and are shatter and puncture proof containers that can be securely closed so they keep the sharps from puncturing or falling out.
  • Radioactive waste containers are yellow in color and are identified with the radioactive symbol.
  • Trace chemotherapy containers are yellow in color and hold chemical and other forms of medical waste that were involved with or in contact with chemotherapy. biohazard waste truck
  • RCRA hazardous containers are black in color and are for medical wastes defined as hazardous under RCRA, which can include but are not limited to pathological, chemical, infectious, and other wastes.
  • Pharmaceutical containers are blue in color and are for pharmaceutical waste that can include expired, contaminated, or unused medications.

How Medical Waste is Stored and Transported

Segregation of medical waste moves to the next phase of the journey for 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 general public. They should be stored so that they cannot be easily knocked over or spilled. The storage area is in preparation for a medical waste disposal company to pick up and dispose of all containers. 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 from the 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:

  • Thermal processing, also known as 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,

Once the medical waste has been treated using the appropriate method it is decontaminated and is considered to be harmless. Any residue can be placed safely in land-fills.