Medical health facilities handle many different types of medical waste, each with its regulations for handling and disposal. As a healthcare professional or manager, you must understand the difference between the types to keep yourself, your teams, and your patients safe.
Educating yourself and your teams is the most effective way of successfully mitigating risk. In this article, you’ll learn the different types of medical waste, the rules and regulations that govern them, and how to dispose of each properly.
Biohazardous waste refers to biological material that is potentially dangerous to humans or animals and may cause harm to the environment. This type of waste can come in solid, liquid, or gas form and most often comes from medical facilities.
Biohazardous waste can include many other types of waste, including sharps, infectious waste, pathological waste, and more.
Some examples of biohazardous waste include (but are not limited to):
These substances are highly infectious, and if accidentally exposed, you can become very ill.
Hazardous waste refers to dangerous waste materials, not including waste generated by living things. This type of waste can include flammable, radioactive, or poisonous waste, so you should never mix it with the regular trash.
If disposed of incorrectly, hazardous materials pose a significant threat to the environment and public health. Factories and chemical plants are the two companies most likely to generate these types of waste.
Hazardous waste may include (but are not limited to):
Hazardous waste is considered to be a threat to public health or the environment.
Infectious waste is any waste that is capable of causing an infectious disease. It’s one of the many types of biohazardous waste but is specific to the types of waste that may cause infection if mishandled.
Some examples of infectious waste include (but are not limited to:
While infectious materials are invariably classified as biohazardous materials, biohazardous materials may not always be “infectious.”
Pathological waste includes human-derived tissues, organs, or body parts, often used in research. This type of waste also covers the tissues, organs, and body parts of animals.
Some examples of pathological waste include (but are not limited to):
Typically, teeth do not fall under this category. Instead, OSHA considers them infectious material.
Biohazardous waste and infectious waste are considered to be the same since both have potential detrimental health effects on exposed humans. Biohazardous waste like sharps may cause diseases like HIV, MRSA, or other infectious diseases.
Pathological waste can also be grouped in with the two (biohazardous and infectious) because human body parts, tissues, and organs are potentially infectious materials.
On the other hand, hazardous waste differs from others because it isn’t derived from living things. For instance, if you were to ingest hazardous waste like lead, you’d be at risk of brain damage and kidney failure.
Each type of waste should be labeled, stored, and disposed of properly to reduce the possibility of infection or harm to others. Depending on the type of waste, it may require a specific container.
The best way to package infectious waste is by storing it in red containers or a container labeled with the universal symbol for infectious materials. These containers should always be sealed and waterproof.
Biohazardous waste must be autoclaved before it’s stored in the regulated medical waste disposal box. Most types of waste require specific containers. For example, sharps should be stored in FDA-cleared sharps containers that are both leakproof and puncture-proof. You must never store biohazardous waste for more than seven days.
Hazardous waste may be contained in tanks, drip pads, waste piles, containment buildings, containers, and surface impoundments. The most common waste containers are 55-gallon drums. All hazardous waste containers must comply with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations.
In regards to hazardous waste specifically, you must never collect more than five gallons at a time. Instead, you should collect and dispose of it regularly using an authorized waste disposal service.
Autoclaving is the most common sterilization method used to treat solid medical waste. This option has become a more popular alternative to the original incineration method, as there are many environmental and health concerns with the combustion by-products emitted by incinerators.
However, medical waste incineration is still widely accepted and mandated for pathological, extremely toxic, and infectious medical waste, otherwise known as “red bag” waste.
Many federal agencies have regulations regarding the disposal of medical waste. These agencies include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and other federal government agencies.
However, the final authority on medical waste is your state’s environmental protection agency and your state’s health agency. Medical waste can be treated on-site or off-site, and there are multiple ways of disposing of them.
On-site medical waste treatment typically happens in large hospitals and other medical facilities. This type of treatment is costly because of the required equipment, maintenance, and running of the machines. Additionally, there are excessive regulatory hoops to jump through, making managing and running these machines very difficult.
Off-site medical waste treatment is a much more cost-effective option for smaller or mid-sized medical facilities. When you hire a third-party vendor who primarily deals with the collection and disposal services, you’ll get peace of mind knowing that you’re in the right hands. Medical waste disposal companies know the ins and outs of waste disposal and can educate you and your team on proper handling and storage.
You won’t have to worry about buying equipment, and your vendor will regularly collect your waste by mail or truck.
Truck services require a contract with a licensed medical disposal vendor. They’ll be able to collect and haul the waste away for regular destruction. The waste gets hauled in specialized containers to a dedicated disposal facility.
Mail or box services use the United States Postal Service to ship the waste safely to a facility for treatment.
Medical waste incineration involves burning wastes produced by medical facilities, including veterinary clinics, hospitals, dental offices, and more. These wastes include infectious wastes as well as non-infectious, general wastes. Three main types of incinerators are used: controlled air, excess air, and rotary kiln.
The autoclaving method of waste disposal uses moisture, higher pressure, and high heat to sterilize biohazardous waste. The autoclave sterilization technique renders biohazardous waste non-infectious. After it’s sterilized, you can dispose of it normally (in solid waste landfills) or incinerate it. However, medical waste (such as chemotherapy and pharmaceutical waste) can not be treated in the autoclave.
A microwave treatment system, similar to an autoclave, uses heat to decontaminate medical waste. This method of treatment works best for waste that is not 100% dry or solid.
For this reason, many personnel will shred and mix the medical waste with water before microwaving it. Taking these extra measures will create the desired effect while also reducing the amount of waste so that it can be later disposed of by landfill.
Chemical treatments sterilize or deactivate certain types of liquid medical wastes on-site. Chemical treatment can also work for some non-liquid infectious wastes, but they would typically need to be shredded first to ensure that all portions of the waste are exposed to the chemicals.
Depending on the type of waste, you may use chemicals like:
However, these chemicals may produce their own undesirable by-products, and therefore, this treatment should only be carried out by trained, capable staff members.
An alternative is turning the liquids into solids by using solidifying agents, then releasing them to your medical waste disposal vendor. This is a better option if you are uncomfortable with on-site chemical treatments.
At DMI Solutions, we offer comprehensive medical waste disposal services to help you properly dispose of your waste. We’ll take care of everything from collection to destruction so that you can get back to taking care of your patients.
You’ll benefit from our full fleet of trucks, state-of-the-art equipment, and in-house autoclave when you choose our team. Our clients trust us because we provide sanitary disposal services that they can count on.
We understand how important it is to keep you and your staff safe, so we consistently employ the highest safety standards. If you need medical waste services, contact our team at DMI Solutions today.
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