The Definitive Guide to Medical Waste Disposal in 2023
Here’s your guide to answer all of your questions about proper medical waste disposal: how to save money on disposal costs, where to find a pick up service or drop off, legalities and regulations, potential problems, and more.
|Save your company up to 83.6% and headaches of poor pick-up service|
|Avoid locking yourself into a multi-year disposal contract|
|Steer clear of up to $70,000 fines per violation for following improper disposal|
|Avert causing a health hazard to employees, waste removers, and the general public|
|Know virtually everything there is to know about disposing of medical waste|
How much does medical waste disposal cost?
Healthcare waste disposal costs for pick-up vary greatly from state to state and are based on your volume and frequency. Our cost is up to 83.6% more affordable than America’s largest medical waste management companies (bigger is not* better in this situation.) Keep reading →
Where can I dispose of medical waste near me?
When you’re looking for the top medical waste disposal companies, you don’t need to look any further than BioMedical Waste Solutions, LLC. We’re affordable, reliable, 100% compliant, and we offer nationwide service. We know that biomedical waste disposal can be tedious and complicated, and we’re here to make it easy for you, so simply tap here to request a quote for service in 10 seconds! Read more →
How are you supposed to dispose of biomedical waste?
If you’re a facility that produces medical waste, you need to contract a state-certified biohazardous waste disposal company to pick up, destroy, and discard your medical waste with proper document destruction certification. If you are an individual citizen, then you need to find the appropriate drop off or use an approved mailback solution. Read more →
Why do you have to dispose of medical waste?
There are several regulations and governing bodies involved in the process, which can make disposal or medical waste overwhelming. One wrong step can mean serious consequences for your healthcare facility and the lives of your employees and the public. And even when the waste has left your supervision, it is your facility that will be held accountable for any violations that take place in the transportation process. Learn more →
What are the fines for improper medical waste disposal?
Fines for medical waste violations can cost a company up to $70,000 per day, per violation. Just imagine what would happen if your violation went on for weeks before being noticed by authorities! That’s why it’s best to hire a company who has experience with waste removal. Read more →
What are the medical waste disposal requirements?
Regulated medical waste (RMW) must undergo specific steps when it comes to its disposal. The process must adhere to regulatory and clinical standards to avoid mishandling infectious medical waste and to minimize risks once the biomedical waste is taken out of facilities. Learn more →
Who is medical waste disposal regulated by?
In short, it’s complicated because biomedical waste is regulated by federal and state ordinances, and sometimes even at the city level. Federal agencies that regulate medical waste in the U.S. include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance, but not regulation. Keep reading →
Where to Drop Off & Cost Savings
What is Medical Waste?
Proper waste disposal in the medical industry remains one of the most pressing issues faced by the medical industry. Several factors govern the need for appropriate waste disposal, such as local and state regulations, HIPAA laws, civil responsibilities, etc. Understanding the definition of waste disposal is crucial to fully grasp why these guidelines exist and why they must be followed.
So, what is medical waste? This type of waste is a by-product of medical procedures and healthcare facilities, such as medical research clinics, laboratories, dental clinics, veterinary clinics, and so on. Some common examples of medical waste include items soaked in or in contact with infectious substances, such as:
These by-products create a risk of exposure to infectious and bio-hazardous waste.
Medical waste does not refer only to the actual infectious material, but also to the tools and materials that come into contact with these substances during their processing in medical and healthcare facilities.
More importantly, how do you dispose of medical waste properly?
Medical Waste Disposal Drop-Offs (Near You!)
Determining where to dispose of healthcare waste is different depending on whether you are inquiring for a residence or an organization.
Depending on where you live, it may be possible to take your medical waste and sharps disposal for drop-off at specific collection sites or medical waste facilities. A few of these services are free but most have a nominal fee.
It’s important to check for information specific to your state, as almost every state and local government has its own regulations and guidelines to provide the best way to dispose of it.
In general, there are two important steps to prepare your clinical waste disposal for drop-off:
|Ensure your sharps disposal containers are labeled correctly|
|Secure the lid of the disposal container in the appropriate manner per local guidelines|
For the reasons mentioned above, it is almost always recommended to use an external pick up service for your biohazardous waste disposal. Waste disposal drop-off can be time-consuming, confusing, and even more expensive than using an external company for easy, stress-free pick up disposal. Perform a quick residential search →
Considering the numerous federal and statewide regulations for clinical waste disposal, it’s incredibly important for an organization to select a professional health care waste disposal company to deal with their biomedical waste disposal. Perform a quick facility medical waste disposal search →
What are the top waste disposal companies? Check out our suggestions below.
Top Waste Disposal Companies
When you’re looking for the top medical waste disposal companies, you don’t need to look any further than BioMedical Waste Solutions, LLC. We’re affordable, reliable, and 100% compliant. We know that waste disposal can be tedious and complicated, and we’re here to make it easy for you.
Our job is to provide you with the highest quality biomedical waste disposal so you remain completely in regulation with medical waste—on both the federal and local levels.
With our low-cost, reliable, and compliant waste disposal services, you can relax and focus on taking care of your patients.
Who is Commercial Medical Waste Pick Up For?
- Private Physician Practices
- Dental Offices
- Veterinary Practices
- Retail Health Clinics
- Urgent Care Clinics
- Research Labs
- Funeral Homes
- Nursing Homes
- Home Healthcare Situations
- Commercial Offices and Buildings
Healthcare Waste Disposal Costs
How does an organization decide whether to manage healthcare waste disposal in-house (by purchasing machinery) or through an external company?
Purchasing machinery, such as incinerators and autoclaves, can often appear to cost less per pound of waste. However, the waste disposal costs of these capital expenditures are usually far out of reach for medium-sized clinics and medical centers.
It is important to consider the additional costs of operating this machinery, which include:
(scheduled maintenance work by an authorized technician)
As an example, steam sterilizers use water, steam, and electricity to operate. These costs can add up fast over the course of 20 years. The water costs to operate the autoclave alone can amount to over $100,000!
One of our customers, a hospital, previously had a large on-site autoclave machine, which they poured thousands of dollars into for maintenance and replacement parts. They called us when it became obvious that these operating costs far exceeded the cost of using an external disposal company.
Biomedical waste disposal costs for pick-up vary greatly from state to state and are based on your volume and frequency. Our cost is up to 83.6% more affordable than Stericycle (America’s largest medical waste management company).
Risks of Improper Disposal
Ensuring that medical waste is disposed of properly is essential because it keeps our communities safe. In this section, we’ll answer some of the most pressing questions around why it matters.
How Often Do Diseases Occur as a Result of Improper Healthcare Waste Disposal?
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), there were 32% new Hepatitis B infections in 2000 due to improper disposal of contaminated syringes. In 2002, WHO conducted a research study to review 22 countries and their methods of medical waste disposal management, and results showed that anywhere from 18% to 64% used improper methods of biomedical waste management.
Who is at Risk for Biohazardous Waste Exposure?
People who have the highest risk of being near biomedical waste, such as healthcare workers, patients, and waste collection and disposal staff, as well as our environment, are most at risk. The biomedical waste may pose an occupational hazard when managed incorrectly. Therefore, we need special precautions and well-trained personnel to manage biomedical waste and keep the risk low.
Why Do We Need to Manage Healthcare Waste in the Right Way?
There are several reasons to manage biomedical waste in an appropriate way:
Health — Nobody wants to see blood drops on the floor when they walk into a hospital visiting a sick friend because of the risk of being infected by any number of diseases.
Environmental Pollution — The risk of air, water, and soil pollution directly from waste due to defective incineration or autoclaving can be harmful.
Biomedical waste treatment and disposal need to be completely managed to ensure the safety of the workplace and to maintain our health. If you maintain the safety process correctly, it will:
- Effectively reduce your legal liability
- Reduce the danger to the community, personnel, and patients
- Keep your reputation high
OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has an established procedure for dealing with biomedical waste hazards that can minimize our risk with contaminated articles. Thus, we at BioMedical Waste Solutions, LLC, use OSHA standards as our guidance to dispose of the medical waste properly.
Biohazardous Waste Disposal Problems
The most common waste disposal problems arise when proper disposal procedures are not followed. Improper disposal can lead to serious consequences, putting facility staff, patients, and communities in danger, not to mention fines, lawsuits, and the loss of reputation that could ruin your business. That’s why it’s crucial to pick the right company to help with your medical waste removal.
Here are some of the biggest problems with the disposal of medical waste…
Lack of Training for Staff
Many facilities fail to fully train their staff on procedures and best practices for health care waste disposal. This leads to problems, such as waste being placed in the wrong containers or hazardous materials being flushed down a drain
or thrown in the regular trash.
Every facility with healthcare waste should be inspected at regular intervals to ensure proper procedures and training are in place.
Improper or Illegal Dumping of Medical Waste
Some facilities can generate up to a tonne of medical waste each and every day. Illegal dumping of waste could potentially expose many people to infections and diseases. Disposing of medical waste via burning is also a dangerous solution, as toxins from waste can circulate in the air. Simply throwing medical waste into the regular trash can also be dangerous for janitors and the general public. Illegal dumping of medical waste can result in huge fines.
The best way to avoid most of the problems associated with clinical waste disposal is to hire a reputable medical waste disposal company, like us, to handle your medical waste and ensure you remain compliant.
Fines, Violations & Regulations
Fines for medical waste violations can cost a company up to $70,000 per day, per violation. Just imagine what would happen if your violation went on for weeks before being noticed by authorities! That’s why it’s best to hire a company who has experience with waste removal.
Federal agencies that regulate medical waste in the U.S. include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance, but not regulation.
Currently, Federal law does not provide a clear definition of medical waste. Usually, individual state health departments create hazardous waste disposal regulations to identify which waste requires special management and disposal processes.
About Health Care Waste Disposal Regulation
Healthcare providers and facilities must abide by the legal and regulatory guidelines on proper clinical waste disposal. These guidelines are created to ensure the safety and protection of those handling medical waste and the general public.
It is important to note that there are various levels of regulations that you must comply with to ensure that you can operate legally as a healthcare facility. Compliance is crucial to your operation and to ensure everyone’s safety.
Regulation on the Federal Level
When medical waste is improperly handled, it can be risky for the employees, public health, and the environment. Therefore, numerous federal agencies have set regulations and guidelines for strict compliance…
US Environmental Protection Agency
The US Environmental Protection Agency is the main regulatory body governing the disposal of medical waste for public and private facilities. Improper waste disposal can have severe effects on public health and the environment. Therefore, the EPA is involved in making sure that this type of waste is done correctly and safely.
There are existing laws that the EPA uses to implement the guidelines for biomedical waste disposal, including:
- Clean Air Act
- Clean Water Act
- Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
The healthcare industry Is responsible for regulating medical waste materials, which can be radioactive, infectious, and biohazardous. It is the EPA’s job to implement these regulations and to ensure that all covered entities are compliant for the benefit of the public and environmental health.
While most of the existing laws governing healthcare waste disposal cover the final stage of disposal (when it ends up in the landfill), some regulations prevent it from entering landfills, depending on the type of waste. Therefore, the EPA and other regulating bodies require that medical waste undergo additional treatment processes to ensure it is safe for landfills.
Occupational Health and Safety Administration
The US Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is another regulating and governing body for medical waste disposal. They have guidelines for healthcare facilities and organizations to protect the safety of employees in the workplace.
OSHA has created the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard to ensure that employees exposed to medical waste are adequately trained and equipped to handle, store, and transport it. These regulations also require facilities to develop an annual exposure control plan to identify and eliminate risks.
Drug Enforcement Agency
The next regulating agency for the disposal of medical waste is the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The DEA explicitly regulates the transport and handling of prescription drugs. There is an ongoing concern that controlled drugs could be in the possession of someone who wasn’t prescribed to take that medication. Therefore, the Disposal Act of 2010 was created to ensure that unwanted prescriptions are correctly disposed of to prevent anyone from accidentally gaining access to these drugs.
Department of Transportation
The US Department of Transportation is the final regulating agency concerning the disposal of medical waste. They specifically deal with hazardous materials regulations, mainly when transporting items that could threaten public health. Regulated medical waste must observe proper handling and transporting procedures through the use of biohazard containers and efficient packing.
United States Postal Service
Small amounts of medical waste are allowed to be shipped to treatment facilities via the United States Postal Service (USPS). However, strict guidelines must be followed in terms of how the waste is packaged and what containers are used. Those guidelines can be found here.
Medical waste that is mailed is handled differently at the USPS since it must follow DOT and USPS guidelines. Prior authorization must be obtained from the USPS before mailing waste and DOT performs random inspections of packages that contain medical waste.
Companies that handle the disposal of medical waste provide shipping containers that are USPS certified and compliant with DOT transportation guidelines, as well as detailed instructions on how to package and ship the contents.
State-Wide Medical Waste Disposal Regulations
Aside from the federal laws and regulations, there are specific policies and rules for every state on the disposal of medical waste. These regulations vary from one state to another. Therefore, healthcare facilities and organizations must be informed about relevant local laws.
Most of the 50 states have some form of clinical waste disposal regulations in place. Unlike hazardous waste regulations, which are all based on the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) standards, the healthcare waste disposal regulations by state vary greatly.
Generally, the state EPA holds the prime responsibility for developing and regulating waste disposal practices. However, in some states (e.g. Missouri and Oklahoma) the Department of Health plays a leading role or serves as a primary regulatory agency (e.g. Colorado). Often the Department of Health is responsible for onsite management and an environmental agency takes care of transportation and disposal.
The majority of states have regulations for packaging, storage, and transportation of medical waste. Others require health care facilities to register and obtain a permit for waste.
Federal and local regulations on the disposal of medical waste can impact your disposal processes in several ways. Employee training is an essential component of a successful waste disposal procedure. Your employees are responsible for treating, storing, handling, and transporting biomedical waste. Therefore, they must know and be able to follow the regulations for their protection and public health.
Regularly train your employees to know the latest rules and laws. OHSA requires that you conduct annual training for your employees. To determine the laws in your state, you can use the Environmental Compliance Assistance Platform (EnvCAP) and their state locator tool.
Medical Waste Disposal Best Practices
There are several regulations and governing bodies involved in the process, which can make this type of waste disposal overwhelming. One wrong step can mean serious consequences for your healthcare facility and the lives of your employees and the public. And even when the waste has left your supervision, it is your facility that will be held accountable for any violations that take place in the transportation process.
Fines for medical waste violations can cost a company up to $70,000 per day, per violation. Just imagine what would happen if your violation went on for weeks before being noticed by authorities!
That’s why we recommend working with a licensed medical waste disposal company like BioMedical Waste Solutions, LLC. We’ll be responsible for handling the disposal process for any kind of biomedical waste. We have the human resources and the tools to perform the job at the highest standard and maintain compliance with existing laws. This allows you to focus on delivering quality service to your patients and ensure that your medical waste is safely disposed of.
Maintaining compliance with various federal and local agencies is tedious. Make sure you invest time in choosing the right partner so you can save time, effort, and resources.
Medical Waste Types
What is the Difference Between Regulated and Unregulated Waste?
Of all the health care waste (HCW), there are essentially two types:
- Regulated medical waste (RMW)
- Unregulated medical waste (UMW)
Approximately 75% to 90% of HCW is UMW (unregulated), otherwise known as healthcare general waste (HCGW). This waste is similar to typical household waste that consists of papers and plastics that have not been in contact with patients and is categorized as non-infectious. It is simply disposed of in accordance with municipal regulations.
Approximately only 10% to 25% of HCW is infectious/regulated medical waste (RMW). Naturally this RMW has to be handled with special care because it could pose a threat to the health of others, either by contaminating the environment or through direct contact with an individual.
An easier way to differentiate the two types is to ask yourself “could this waste kill someone or make them sick?” If yes, then it is regulated and must be handled with special care.
Categories of Medical Waste
The term “medical waste” can encompass a variety of products used in the healthcare industry, whether or not it is directly exposed to hazardous materials and substances. This term can even include office paper and kitchen waste within a healthcare facility.
It is important to know what categories of medical waste your facility produces so that you can determine the proper disposal, since the management of each waste category is different.
The WHO has classified medical waste into eight (8) categories:
- Infectious Waste – This medical waste type refers to substances that are directly used to collect and store waste that may transmit infection from viruses, bacteria, or parasites to humans. A few examples include swabs, lab cultures, and laboratory equipment.
- Sharps – This type includes any object that is used to pierce the skin and comes in contact with biohazard substances like blood or human tissues. Examples include razors, scalpels, needles, wires, staples, lancets, knives, blades, etc.
- Pathological – This type refers to the samples taken from patients for lab analysis. This waste category includes bodily fluids (like urine or stool samples), tissues, and blood.
- Radioactive – This medical waste category refers to the lab research or radioactive liquid used for various laboratory equipment and radiotherapy procedures, lab research, contaminated glassware, etc.
- Chemical – Healthcare facilities use various chemicals to ensure sanitation. Chemical waste like solvents and disinfectants need to follow proper disposal procedures. This type can include expired lab reagents, film developers, and disinfectants.
- Pharmaceuticals – This waste category includes used or unused vaccines, drugs, injectables, pills, and antibiotics, as well as expired and contaminated medicines.
- Cytotoxic/GenotoxicProperties – This category is considered one of the most hazardous forms of medical waste. It involves waste that contains substances with genotoxic properties, which means they are mutagenic, teratogenic, or carcinogenic. This often includes cytotoxic drugs used in cancer treatment and their metabolites.
- Non-Hazardous General Waste – No risk to human health because it doesn’t contain any blood or related bodily fluid, such as office paper, wrappers, kitchen waste, general sweeping, etc.
Medical Waste Types
There are various medical waste categories, each requiring unique disposal procedures and requirements. Each must be disposed of properly since it can risk the transmission of infectious diseases. Learn more about each type below.
This medical waste includes non-sharp objects exposed to biological materials like bodily fluids. Solid waste examples include:
This medical waste category includes biohazard waste, such as:
Various Names for Medical Waste
Several different names are used for medical waste. Even though these names often differ from each other, they all fall under the same general definition. There is a need to distinguish different types of medical waste because of the diverse nature of the waste and the risk of transmission of infectious diseases among them. Each type, therefore, may require different methods of disposal based on its risks.
Here are the most common terms used to refer to medical waste:
- Biomedical Waste
- Clinical Waste
- Healthcare Waste
- Biohazardous Waste
- Infectious Medical Waste
- Regulated Medical Waste
In general, you may use any of these terms to refer to medical waste. However, there is a vast difference between regular healthcare waste and biohazard waste materials. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), general medical waste is any waste that poses no risk of contamination. On the other hand, medical waste that could potentially lead to contamination or transmission of infectious diseases is called biohazards.
Medical Waste Disposal Guidelines
Now that you understand the different types of medical waste, it is crucial to follow the recommended procedures for proper waste disposal.
Healthcare providers and facilities have two options for healthcare waste disposal: on-site or off-site. Once you have chosen your waste disposal location, you must consider the method of transportation (if it is off-site).
For off-site disposal of medical waste, it is essential to choose a reliable provider that can transport your medical waste safely and use the regulated procedures for the specific type of waste. This is crucial in order to avoid external contamination and to prevent being penalized for lack of a proper waste disposal system.
The 7-Step Biomedical Waste Removal Solution
Regulated medical waste (RMW) must undergo specific steps when it comes to its disposal. The process must adhere to regulatory and clinical standards to avoid mishandling infectious medical waste and to minimize risks once the biomedical waste is taken out of facilities.
All companies that create medical waste must observe the following 7-step process:
- Segregation of healthcare waste
- Clear labeling and packaging of waste materials
- Safe storage of clinical waste
- Documentation upon pickup of waste products
- Safe transport of medical waste
- Proper disposal and treatment of waste
- Record-keeping for the discarded waste materials
Stages of Medical Waste Disposal
Where does medical waste go?
How is medical waste disposed of?
This section will answer those questions and more. For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to focus on disposal in the US.
Let’s dive in and learn the cautious and special care process in which medical waste is collected, stored, transported and treated…
Stage 1 – Collecting & Segregating
Biomedical waste needs to be collected in containers that are resilient and strong from breakage during the handling process. Do not place sharps, used needles, syringes, or other contaminated tools in common waste disposal or recycle bins because the entire waste can become infected by doing so.
Segregation also needs to be performed between the liquid and solid biomedical waste products. Categorize the medical waste with correct segregation to isolate and manage each waste type in the proper way. For this purpose, the waste containers come in different colors, with different label coding and plastic bags.
Stage 2 – Storing & Transporting
There are specific requirements for storage facilities, such as having a secure area that is inaccessible to the general public and separated from food consumption areas. Storage facilities must also contain a refrigerator or freezer unit that can be used for medical waste if necessary.
Some facilities provide special vehicles and protective devices to dispose, handle, and transport biomedical waste products. Remember to observe and keep maintaining protective devices periodically so they won’t be a source of transmitting infections.
Stage 3 – Treatment
Professional handling according to by-law regulations, such as OSHA, are needed to ensure that regulated medical waste (RMW) is handled properly. The treatment process requires medical waste equipment that ranges in use from handling, carts, shredding, conveying, size reducing, compactors, to sterilization, and recycling.
The following equipment is needed to properly process the waste in order to reduce the hazards and maintain the environment:
Carts & Containers – This type of equipment is commonly used to collect medical waste. It includes things like dumpers, containers, and compactors.
Conveyors – This equipment helps to segregate the waste.
Sterilizers – Autoclaves, shredders, and size redactors are examples of equipment that is used to sterilize waste.
Waste Handling Equipment – Equipment used to handle waste includes things like compactors, containers, pre-crushers, and deliquefying systems.
Recycling Systems – Equipment used to recycle waste includes balers and size reduction equipment.
Type 1 Incineration Systems for Medical Waste Treatment
Incineration technology uses a high temperature thermal process to convert inert material and gasses through the process of combustion. It processes waste, converting it into ash, gas, or heat.
There are three types of incinerators that are commonly used for biomedical waste:
- The Multiple Hearth Type – This incinerator has a circular steel furnace that contains solid refractory hearths with a central rotating shaft to convert the waste into ash.
- Rotary Kiln – This type of incinerator is shaped like a drum and is commonly used for medical and hazardous waste.
- Controlled Air – There are two process chambers that will handle the waste in a Controlled Air Incinerator. By completely combusting and oxidizing it, it creates a stream of gas with carbon dioxide and water vapor composition. It is commonly used for waste that contains organic materials.
In some cases, performing a shredding of biomedical waste is needed as an aid for the incineration process.
Type 2 Non-Incineration Systems for Medical Waste Treatment
Non-Incineration System (Autoclaving, Irradiation, Chemical Methods) – Type 2 of Medical Waste Treatment
Aside from incineration technology, the non-incineration method also provides the ability to dispose of biomedical waste. It contains four basic processes: thermal, irradiative, chemical, and biological.
- Autoclaving – The autoclaving system is commonly used for human body fluid waste, sharps, and microbiology laboratory waste. This thermal system requires high temperatures that produce steam to decontaminate the biomedical waste. The steam plays a critical role in the medical waste autoclaving process, therefore a good waste holding container is required. Most human body fluid waste can be used with this method, but the cytotoxic agents that are used for chemotherapy cannot because those types of waste are not degraded with autoclave steams. A photo of our autoclave machine is pictured below.
- Irradiation – Irradiation is another thermal method that uses a high frequency microwave for disposal. The wave generates heat to the waste materials and kills all the bacteria, or any other contamination in the tools.
- Chemical Decontamination – This method can be used for microbiology laboratory waste, human blood, sharps, and body fluid waste, but it cannot be used for treating anatomical waste.
- Biological Processes – This method employs enzymes to destroy the organic matter of the waste, however there are very few non-incineration technologies that have been based on this biological method.
On-Site and Off-Site Treatment of Medical Waste
Differentiating which biomedical waste can be performed on-site versus off-site is important because in the majority of cases, the biomedical waste is a mixture that can be very difficult to manage or segregate. That’s why an accurate simplified management of medical waste that segregates it according to the regulations reduces the erroneous element.
On-site treatment usually requires expensive equipment. Not all facilities have this equipment due to major infrastructure expenditure, but it is generally cost effective for very large hospitals and laboratories.
Most medical waste producers choose off-site treatment through regulated biomedical waste disposal companies because they have:
- The proper medical waste equipment
- State certified operating permits
- OSHA-trained personnel to collect, transport, and store medical waste
Stage 4 – Disposal
Once treated, the medical waste is ready to be disposed of, and there are different methods of doing this depending on whether the waste is solids or fluids.
Disposing of Solid Waste
In the US, once medical waste producers have adhered to regulations for collecting, storing, transporting, and treating their waste, they may then use their municipal landfill and sanitary sewer system as their final disposal method for solid waste.
That’s right, your local municipal landfill is commonly used as the final place of your treated decontaminated biomedical waste.
Disposing of Fluid Waste
For fluids such as blood, suctioned fluids, excretions, and secretions, almost every state and local government has its own regulations and guidelines for disposal. In general, there are two recommended ways to handle medical waste fluids:
- Collect fluids in a leak proof container, and solidify it for autoclave treatment
- Thermally autoclave fluids so that they can be disposed into the sanitary sewer system
NOTE: An extra precaution should be performed before pouring treated fluids in the sewer because they may cause clogs and leaks.
Infectious Waste Disposal Facilities
Hazardous and medical waste disposal facilities receive waste for treatment, storage, and disposal. These locations are usually referred to as TSDFs (treatment, storage, and disposal facilities).
Treatment Facilities use several different processes, such as incineration or oxidation, to alter the composition of medical wastes. Some treatment processes allow waste to be recovered and reused for manufacturing, while other treatment methods dramatically reduce the amount of hazardous waste.
Storage Facilities temporarily hold hazardous and medical wastes until they are treated or disposed of. Medical waste is often stored prior to treatment or disposal, and needs to be stored in containers, containment buildings, tanks, drip pads, surface impoundments, or waste piles that comply with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations.
Disposal Facilities are permanent locations where hazardous and medical wastes are stored. The most common types of disposal facilities are landfills, where waste is disposed of in constructed units that are designed to protect groundwater and surface water resources.
Incineration is the most commonly used clinical waste disposal treatment method. However, alternative treatment methods have started to become increasingly popular. Choosing a treatment system should be done carefully, on the basis of various factors, many of which depend on local conditions.
Here’s a summary of the 5 most common disposal treatment methods for medical waste:
Incineration – A high-temperature dry oxidation process that reduces waste to inorganic, incombustible matter, and results in a very significant reduction of waste volume and weight. This process is usually selected to treat wastes that cannot be recycled, reused, or disposed of in a landfill site.
Wet & Dry Thermal Treatment – A treatment procedure that is based on the exposure of shredded infectious waste to high-temperature, high-pressure steam, and is similar to the autoclave sterilization process. When sufficient temperature and contact times are sufficient, it inactivates most types of microorganisms.
Irradiative (Microwave Irradiation) – A treatment method that shreds waste and then humidifies and transfers it to an irradiation chamber equipped with a series of microwave generators. After irradiation, the waste is compacted inside a container and enters the municipal waste stream.
Chemical Disinfection – Used routinely in health care to kill microorganisms on medical equipment and on floors and walls, this method is now being extended to the treatment of healthcare waste. Chemicals are added to waste to kill or inactivate the pathogens it contains, usually resulting in disinfection rather than sterilization.
Land Disposal – If a municipality lacks the means to treat waste before disposal, the use of a municipal land disposal site has to be regarded as an acceptable disposal route
Clinical Waste Disposal Containers
Organizations that generate medical waste must ensure they take care of all disposals using the appropriate biomedical waste disposal containers. The role of these containers is to safely store materials until they are removed from the site location.
To be secure, containers must be tough against holes and leaks, sturdy, and fire-resistant. It is crucial that staff members are properly trained so that health care waste disposal containers are used correctly and adhere to workplace health and safety laws.
Cataloging, Colors, Size, & Types
The United States requires that waste containers be color-coded (view the colored images below). OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard states that workers should recognize that clinical waste disposal containers need to be compliant with “Universal Precautions.” Even if your state doesn’t adhere to color requirements, it is our recommendation that your organization does so to ensure OSHA and federal compliance.
Codes for Colors
These are the most commonly used color codes in the United States:
|Used for non-RCRA pharmaceutical wastes such as antibiotics.|
|Normally used for containers that hold chemotherapy waste.|
|Federally regulated color used in medical waste disposal containers holding biohazardous waste. This is also used for sharps containers.|
|Used for RCRA regulated hazardous materials such as Warfarin, Nicotine patches, or gum.|
Container Sizes & Types
Medical waste disposal containers are usually stand-alone baskets, but wheeled carts and mounted receptacles are also easy to find. Sizes range anywhere from 1 quart to 20 gallons of capacity, but most commonly are 8, 12, and 18 gallons.
How to Properly Store Biohazard Waste
The proper use of storage and containers during medical waste transport is vital to avoid unwanted contamination. Biohazard containers should be used for storing needles, IV catheters, and any sharp waste.
You can also use a container that is approved for medical waste to store and transport syringes and gloves used for medical procedures, bandages or dressings for wounds, and other materials used for first aid or medical care.
Investing in Biohazard Containers
The use of regular trash bags and containers is not recommended for biohazard or biomedical waste. Using only licensed medical waste management companies and containers is essential to ensure that it is safe for the environment and humans. It is also necessary to hire professionals as they are knowledgeable about proper handling and waste disposal.
Brief History of Regulated Biohazardous Waste Disposal in America
In 1988, a famous act called the Medical Waste Tracking Act (MWTA) was addressed to handle the disposal of medical waste in coastal areas due to a large amount of medical and household waste throughout several coastal areas. A two-year program was implemented in the affected areas (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico). This act was expired in June 21, 1991.
During that time, the EPA gathered all information and performed medical waste related studies. Together with MWTA, they managed to look at several treatment technologies that were available at that time involving incinerators, microwave units, and several varieties of mechanical and chemical systems that can be used for reducing the waste. This resulted in a different local regulation of medical waste management that was implemented for each state, such as Medical Waste Management 2015, one of the recent medical waste regulations for California State.
Sorry to disappoint our Walking Dead fans, but improper disposal of medical waste won’t be the cause of the Zombie Apocalypse in America because of stringent regulations, laws, and guidelines.
How Much Biomedical Waste is Produced?
According to a 2019 study published on PubMed, the estimated cost of waste in the US healthcare system ranged from $760 billion to $935 billion, which accounts for approximately 25% of total health care spending. But things have gotten even worse since the pandemic.
In the 2022 World Health Organization (WHO) Global Analysis of Health Care Waste, it was pointed out that 144,000 tonnes of additional waste, including syringes, needles, and safety boxes, has been created due to the millions of test kits and vaccines that have been produced.
As of Oct. 31, 2022, the global market of the medical waste management system is worth $7.6 Billion as of now with a projected reach of $15.36 Billion by the year 2032.
In short, almost all healthcare activities related to humans produce medical waste. So, can you imagine the dangers of what would happen if it was disposed of improperly?
Congratulations! You read our whole definitive guide on medical waste disposal, and you probably know more on the subject than most. We trust you can save money, know the importance of proper disposal in terms of safety and legalities, and how to properly dispose of medical waste.
As you can see from this article, great care goes into disposing of medical waste, and the way it is disposed of is dependent on what category of medical waste it is and government regulations. We hope you find it easier to properly dispose of your medical waste now that you have this guide.
We would love to hear from you, so post a comment below.
And of course, if your facility needs medical waste disposal in the United States, give us a call at 1 (844) 901-1340 or tap here to get a free quote, we would love to work with you.
About the Author
Dr. Intan Airlina is consulting Director of OSHA Compliance for BioMedical Waste Solutions, LLC (www.BioMedicalWasteSolutions.com). She is an Internist that holds an Internal Medicine Degree from the University of Indonesia, she learned tropical diseases and infection, and she is certified in patient safety from a Joint Commission International (JCI) and ISO certified hospital.
Legal Disclaimer. This guide and the medical information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for purposes or as a substitute for proper OSHA training. Please consult your OSHA trained provider, or contact BioMedical Waste Solutions, LLC for a consultation, before making any biohazardous waste disposal decisions. BioMedical Waste Solutions, LLC expressly disclaims responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury, or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site. If you do not agree to the foregoing terms and conditions, you should not enter this site.
Dear Sir or Madam,
Would you tell me what a typical composition of an autoclavable biohazard bag is? Is it based on PP or PE? How can I know the formulation of the raw materials?
an informative read.
I want to see how much medical waste was produced in last ten years(or five years). please.
I thought I would add, in addition to being very expensive to run and maintain, autoclaving machines are incredibly unreliable. Our hospital has our own machine and we end up outsourcing our disposal 3-4 months of the year while our machine is being repaired. Otherwise, very informative read!
Great information, I’m sharing with my office who’ve been waiting anxiously for the zombie apocalypse!
I’d love to see an updated infograph of how much medical waste was produced in 2020 due to COVID-19! (don’t know whether to laugh or cry)
Thank you for sharing Dr Intan. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on sharps container disposal. We are a small dental office and usually only get b-monthly pick up. Is there a hazard to leaving waste for 1+ months as long as the containers are stored carefully? What is an ideal frequency for pick up?
Many thanks for creating the pdf, i’ve shared internally with staff and it’s been very helpful. It’s definitely true about the costs of in-house disposal! The hospital I worked at previously spent a FORTUNE on incineration. Bills were massive. So much more economical to outsource to a medial waste disposal company.
Aerosol cans may be classified as non-hazardous if they are empty and provided the general healthcare waste is not being sent for incineration.