The Ultimate Guide and Resource To Medical Waste Disposal

Read the ultimate guide and resource to medical waste disposal. Learn about the industry, the process, and how we process medical waste.

Does your facility or clinic dispose of medical waste? If so, you’ve landed at the right place. We dive in and give you the complete guide and resource to medical waste disposal. Medical waste is one of the biggest day-to-day challenges faced by healthcare providers. It’s often complicated by other concerns like HIPAA, epidemiology, potential civil litigation, and state and local regulation.

Definition of Medical Waste

Biomedical waste is any waste containing infectious (or potentially infectious) materials. it should also include waste related to the generation of biomedical waste that visually appears to be of medical or laboratory origin (e.g., packaging, unused bandages, infusion kits, etc.), likewise work waste containing biomolecules or organisms that are mainly restricted from environmental release. As detailed below, discarded sharps are considered biomedical waste whether or not they are contaminated or not, because of the chance of being contaminated with blood and their propensity to cause injury when not properly contained and disposed of. Biomedical waste could be a kind of bio-waste.

The Medical Waste Tracking Act

The Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 defines medical waste as “any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals, in research pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biologicals.”¹ This definition includes, but is not limited to:

  • blood-soaked bandages
  • culture dishes and other glassware
  • discarded surgical gloves
  • discarded surgical instruments
  • discarded needles used to give shots or draw blood
  • cultures, stocks or swabs used to inoculate cultures
  • body organs
  • discarded lancets

What is Medical Waste Disposal?

Medical waste can contain bodily fluids like blood or other contaminants. The 1988 Medical Waste Tracking Act defines is as waste generated during medical research, testing, diagnosis, immunization, or treatment of either human beings or animals. Some examples are culture dishes, glassware, bandages, gloves, discarded sharps like needles or scalpels, swabs, and tissue.

Biomedical waste may well be strong or fluid. Instances of irresistible waste incorporate disposed of blood, sharps, undesirable microbiological societies and stocks, recognizable body parts (counting those thanks to removal), other human or creature tissue, utilized gauzes and dressings, disposed of gloves, other clinical supplies that will are in touch with blood and body liquids, and research center shows the qualities portrayed previously. waste sharps incorporate possibly sullied utilized (and unused disposed of) needles, surgical tools, lancets and different gadgets equipped for entering skin.

Terminology & Different Names

Medical waste goes by several names that all have the same basic definition. All of the terms below refer to waste created during the healthcare process that’s either contaminated or potentially contaminated by infectious material.

  • Medical Waste
  • Biomedical Waste
  • Clinical Waste
  • Biohazardous Waste
  • Regulated Medical Waste (RMW)
  • Infectious Medical Waste
  • Healthcare waste

The terms are used interchangeably, but there’s a distinction between general healthcare waste and hazardous medical waste. The WHO categorizes sharps, human tissue, fluids, and contaminated supplies as “biohazardous,” and non-contaminated equipment and animal tissue as “general medical waste.”

In fact, office paper, sweeping waste, and kitchen waste from healthcare facilities is still technically medical waste, though it’s not regulated and not hazardous in nature.

Types of Medical Waste

The WHO provides official information on what is deemed “healthcare waste”.

Below is a list of the different types of waste. Medical Waste and by-products cover a diverse range of materials, as the following list illustrates:

  • Infectious waste: waste contaminated with blood and other bodily fluids (e.g. from discarded diagnostic samples),cultures and stocks of infectious agents from laboratory work (e.g. waste from autopsies and infected animals from laboratories), or waste from patients with infections (e.g. swabs, bandages and disposable medical devices);
  • Pathological waste: human tissues, organs or fluids, body parts and contaminated animal carcasses;
  • Sharps waste: syringes, needles, disposable scalpels and blades, etc.;
  • Chemical waste: for example solvents and reagents used for laboratory preparations, disinfectants, sterilants and heavy metals contained in medical devices (e.g. mercury in broken thermometers) and batteries;
  • Pharmaceutical waste: expired, unused and contaminated drugs and vaccines;
  • Cyctotoxic waste: waste containing substances with genotoxic properties (i.e. highly hazardous substances that are, mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic), such as cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites;
  • Non-hazardous or general waste: waste that does not pose any particular biological, chemical, radioactive or physical hazard.
  • General Non-Regulated Medical Waste. Also called non-hazardous waste, this type doesn’t pose any particular chemical, biological, physical, or radioactive danger.

Medical Waste Disposal Facts

Here are some key facts from the WHO on medical waste disposal.

  • Of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste.
  • The remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive.
  • Every year an estimated 16 billion injections are administered worldwide, but not all of the needles and syringes are properly disposed of afterwards.
  • Open burning and incineration of health care wastes can, under some circumstances, result in the emission of dioxins, furans, and particulate matter.
  • Measures to ensure the safe and environmentally sound management of health care wastes can prevent adverse health and environmental impacts from such waste including the unintended release of chemical or biological hazards, including drug-resistant microorganisms, into the environment thus protecting the health of patients, health workers, and the general public

Where Does Medical Waste Get Disposed?

There are a few clinical waste removal strategies medicinal services suppliers can look over. The principal question is the place the waste gets discarded: nearby or off-site? The second is the way the waste gets shipped if it’s discarded off-site.

Clinical waste is discarded by first making it safe through a disinfection procedure. Waste that can’t be reused, similar to cloth or needles, despite everything should be made sterile and non-perilous before it very well may be discarded. This procedure is typically done by utilizing an autoclave. A clinical autoclave is a gadget that utilizations steam to sanitize hardware and different articles. This implies all microscopic organisms, infections, parasites, and spores are inactivated by utilizing temperature’s high to the point, that no microorganisms can endure and subsequently the things are considered safe for reusing or removal.

Procedures for Medical Waste Disposal and Treatment

As a rule, the procedure for dealing with and discarding clinical waste includes purification, either with an autoclave or incinerator before being taken to a landfill. Once sterilized, clinical waste leftover materials can be treated as nonhazardous waste and discarded in like manner. Warmth, synthetic concoctions, or a blend of the two speak to the essential removal strategies for clinical waste, however untreated waste can be prepared by different methods for purification are inaccessible.

  • Truck services require a contract with a specially licensed disposal company to haul the waste away for regular destruction. The waste is hauled in special containers to a dedicated disposal facility.
  • Mail or box services use the U.S. Postal Service to ship the waste safely to a facility for treatment. This is generally the most cost effective of all the methods. It requires a vendor fully versed and experienced in all special Postal Service regulations and best practices.

Medical Waste Disposal Treatment Methods

Heat processing of clinical waste includes either burning at an off-site removal office or using an autoclave or microwave treatment framework. Burning of clinical waste outcomes in the decimation of 99% of microorganisms and results in a couple of waiting leftovers. Required by most states, incineration happens at a controlled office equipped for furnishing total ignition with insignificant ecological effects.


Heat processing of clinical waste includes either burning at an off-site removal office or using an autoclave or microwave treatment framework. Burning of clinical waste outcomes in the decimation of 99% of microorganisms and results in a couple of waiting leftovers. Required by most states, incineration happens at a controlled office equipped for furnishing total ignition with insignificant ecological effects. Before 1997, over 90% of all infectious medical waste was disposed of by incineration. Changes to EPA regulations has led providers to seek other disposal means. tissues.


Autoclaves rely on thermal treatment of sharps, including needles, blades, syringes, and other similar materials. Autoclaves are capable of treating 100-4000 liters of bulk waste materials. Using steam for treatment, autoclaves create a high-temperature, steam cleaning of medical waste for complete sterilization. Once processed by an autoclave, sterilized materials become nonhazardous and eligible for disposal through standard practices.


Like the autoclave, microwave treatment utilizes high temperatures to enter and disinfect clinical waste. Microwave treatment works likewise to the run of the mill microwave by producing heat through the warming of the water particles inside a substance. Since microwaves rely upon water so as to accomplish cleansing, materials scheduled for microwave treatment must be destroyed in certain states and joined with water before treatment.


A more cost effective practice involves steam sterilization as an alternative medical waste treatment that is also popular in the developing world. Used alone or as part of a hybrid solar steam sterilizer, solar heating destroys bacteria and disinfects waste via a solar cooker procedure. 


Some types of medical waste that do not respond well to typical treatment practices can undergo chemical disinfection. Chemical disinfection is primarily used for liquid-based waste such as blood, urine, stools or hospital sewage, and usually involves shredding of any materials and treatment as close to the collection site as possible.


Best Practices for Medical Waste Handling

Healthcare staff can prevent most issues with medical waste by implementing a few primary best practises. Employees should know the laws, then classify and separate all waste by type into the correct containers of colour-coded waste. Waste should be labelled according to their category, and all containers should be accompanied by the correct documentation during transit.

  • Know the healthcare waste laws. Healthcare waste is regulated by the DOT, EPA, OSHA, and the DEA. It’s vital to be aware of all guidelines from each agency when preparing, transferring, and disposing of hazardous waste.
  • Classify medical waste correctly. Identifying the kind of waste you’re dealing with is the first step in properly disposing of it. Avoid putting non-hazardous waste in with the rest to prevent overspending.
  • Separate the waste by type. Waste should be separated out into the different categories, including sharps, pharmaceutical, chemical, pathological, and non-hazardous. Regulated medical waste goes in red bags. Sharps that go into these bags must be put into puncture-proof containers first.
  • Use the right medical waste containers. Put all waste in approved containers depending on how it’s classified. Some waste can go in certified cardboard boxes, while other waste gets put in special tubs or even locked up for transit.
  • Prepare the containers properly. Healthcare waste containers and bags must be taped for shipment, then packaged according to DOT weight restrictions. Containers should be stored in a secure, dry area before pickup or shipping. It’s essential to properly label all waste before transport as well.
  • Include the right documentation. Proper documentation of healthcare waste is crucial to protect both the provider and the waste disposal company. The right paperwork should accompany each container and bag throughout the process.
  • Use the medical waste disposal color code. The color coding system for waste segregation calls for all sharps to go in puncture resistant red biohazard containers. Biohazard waste goes in red bags and containers. Yellow containers are for trace chemo waste, while pharmaceutical waste goes into black containers for hazardous materials and blue for all others. Radioactive wastes like Fluorine-18 or Iodine-131 get put in shielded containers marked with the radioactive symbol.
  • Hire the right waste disposal company. Multiple regulating bodies, various hazards, and several different kinds of waste present a daunting challenge for healthcare employees. Partnering with a reliable vendor is often vital.

The History of Medical Waste Disposal

In the nineteenth century, sanitation and clinical waste removal were practically un-heard of. It was not until the middle to late 1800s that genuine change started. The celebrated British reformer, Edwin Chatwick, investigated the staggeringly foul conditions that could be found inside Britain’s penitentiaries and clinics. His huge endeavours prompted the making of the Public Health Act in 1848. Chatwick’s work was a motivation to other people. For example, new changes came to fruition in the United States on account of Colonel George E. Waring, who filled in as an official in the Union armed force during the Civil War. Waring established the vocation field of sterile designing. Clean building has become a fundamental piece of our lives here in the current day.

The way we deal with taking care of clinical waste in the U.S. has advanced uniquely since the 1980’s. In that decade, a progression of occurrences of healthcare waste appearing on East Coast sea shores increased across the board media consideration. The occasions caused calls for expanded guideline, which came as 1988’s Federal Medical Waste Tracking Act.

The Act imposed strict rules on the transportation of waste from hospitals and other facilities. When it expired in 1991, the states largely took on the regulatory burden, basing their individual programs on lessons learned from the act.

The Dangers of Medical Waste Disposal


Photographer:Mikael Seegen | Source:Unsplash

Unless it’s managed properly, medical waste can present several health hazards to healthcare employees, waste workers and the general public. Discarded needles can expose us to needle sticks and possible infection if they’re accidentally sent to recycling facilities, or if containers break open in transit. Housekeepers and janitors are also at risk when sharps poke their way out through plastic bags.

Hazardous waste can expose us to microorganisms, radiation burns, poisoning, pollution, and other dangers. Finally, improperly treated waste sent to landfills can contaminate our drinking water and environment.

Who Regulates Medical Waste Disposal?

Almost all 50 states have enacted medical waste policies to a degree. but, unlike state dangerous waste policies, which can be all primarily based at the federal RCRA requirements, kingdom clinical waste requirements range diversely. a few state medical waste rules are usual after the scientific Waste tracking Act, at the same time as others have little or no resemblance to this historical law.

For most states, it is mainly the environmental protection agency that establishes and enforces legislation for the treatment and disposal of medical wastes. But in certain states the health department may play a major role (e.g., MO, OK) or even function as the sole regulatory agency (e.g., CO). Where both agencies participate, the Department of Health is usually responsible for

Such regulations include medical waste processing, recycling and transportation. Some states require medical facilities to register and/or obtain a permit. State rules may also cover contingency plans development, on-site treatment, training, waste tracking, record keeping and reporting.

Many government agencies conform to hazardous waste rules. Those comprise the Occupational Health and Security Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the United Nations. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Transportation Department (DOT), and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Who Creates Medical Waste?

Biomedical waste arises from human and medical origins and practises such as disease detection, prevention, or treatment. Traditional sources (or producers) of biomedical waste include schools, medical clinics, nursing homes, emergency medical services, laboratories for scientific testing, doctors ‘offices, dentists‘ and veterinarians ‘offices, home health care and morgues or funeral homes. In healthcare facilities (i.e., hospitals, laboratories, doctors ‘offices, veterinarian schools and clinical research labs), waste with these features can be referred to as medical or surgical waste.

The list of waste generation facilities below covers all caregiver places, such as private veterinarian practises and dental clinics, but also veterinary services, testing hospitals, funeral homes, and any other location that meets medical waste criteria.

  • Physician Practices
  • Retail Health Clinics
  • Dental Offices
  • Urgent Care Clinics
  • Veterinary Practices
  • Medical Research Laboratories
  • Nursing Homes
  • Home Healthcare or Infusion Situations
  • Funeral Homes
  • Hospitals
  • Commercial Offices and Buildings

Medical Waste Disposal Tools and Resources

We built a comprehensive toolbox below varied tools and approaches for medical waste, from policy databases and records to legislation, suppliers and instructional materials.

The EPA  a map-based chart of links with state departments for the environment and hazardous waste systems around the world.

The WHO Provides a Free 308 Page Manual About the safe disposal of healthcare waste, including general details such as minimization, reuse, processing, recycling and further description and classification.

This EPA Document is a great resource for sharps disposal tools and ideas. It includes sharps facts, dangers, disposal options, and links to several state and local programs.


The above guide describes the concept, types, history, and dangers of medical waste, including how it gets disposed of, best practises, methods, services, and regulatory bodies.

We hope you found this complete guide and resource to medical waste disposal useful. Got a comment or a question? Reach out to us via the form below!

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