medical waste disposal washington dc virginia maryland

All about Medical Waste Disposal Vol.5

1. What are the Different Types of Medical Waste – and Why are They Important?

For Healthcare Waste Medical Waste Disposal Services call 240-206-6030What is Medical Waste?

Medical waste is any waste that is generated as a by-product of healthcare work at doctor’s surgeries, dentists, hospitals and laboratories.Healthcare waste includes any material that could come into contact with the body during diagnosis, research, drug administration or any type of treatment.

It’s likely to be infectious, or potentially infectious, and is often contaminated with bodily fluids in some way – but the term can also be used to refer to general waste from any medical practice, as well as specific waste streams typically found in the medical industry.

Names and categorizations for the different types of medical waste

Each country names and categorizes their medical waste slightly differently, but often the terms can be used interchangeably. Those in most widespread use include:

Medical waste in the USA:

The EPA – Medical Waste Guidance defines and categories solid medical waste in the following ways.

  1. General Waste – The bulk of the most medical waste, mostly typical household and office waste
  2. Infectious Waste – Any waste that could cause an infection in humans, like blood, human tissue or anything contaminated with bodily fluids
  3. Hazardous Waste – Waste that’s dangerous, but not infectious, like sharps, discarded surgical equipment, and some chemical waste
  4. Radioactive Waste – Any waste generated as a result of radioactive treatments, like cancer therapies, and medical equipment that uses nuclear elements.

Healthcare waste in the UK:

The UK government segregates the different types of healthcare waste into these categories:

  • Infectious Waste – Any waste generated from the treatment of individuals or contaminated with any infectious bodily fluids
  • Cytotoxic / Cytostatic Waste – Drugs and other types of medicine that are cytotoxic and/or cytostatic, or items that come into contact with any toxic or carcinogenic medicine.
  • Medicinal Waste – All types of medicine, pills, and creams that are not cytotoxic and/or cytostatic
  • Anatomical Waste – All waste from a human or animal, including body parts, blood bags, and organs
  • Offensive Waste – Any waste that’s non-infectious, including sanitary and nappy waste.
  • Domestic or Municipal – All other general, non-clinical waste

World Health Organisation (WHO) medical waste classifications:

The WHO has issued its own guidelines on the different types of medical waste healthcare waste, which includes:
  1. Infectious Waste – Anything that’s infectious or contaminated
  2. Sharps – Waste like needles, scalpels, broken glass and razors
  3. Pathological Waste – Human or animal tissue, body parts, blood and fluids
  4. Pharmaceutical Waste – Unused and expired drug or medicines, like creams, pills, antibiotics
  5. Genotoxic Waste – Cytotoxic drugs and other hazardous toxic waste, that’s carcinogenic, mutagenic or teratogenic.
  6. Radioactive Waste – Any waste containing potentially radioactive materials
  7. Chemical Waste – Liquid waste, typically from machines, batteries, and disinfectants
  8. General/Other Waste – All other, non-hazardous waste.

Understanding the most common types of medical waste Healthcare Waste

Although there are several ways to categorize and name medical waste, the different medical waste streams are all fairly similar. Once you understand the types of waste within each, you can ensure each type is disposed of correctly.

For example:

  • All needles, scalpels, razor blades and any other sharp objects are generally referred to as Sharps. How they have been used will determine which type of medical waste they are categorized as – generally infectious, or
  • Any body parts, human tissue or bodily fluid – as well as swabs and cultures – is typically referred to as anatomical or This is generally known as biohazard waste.
  • The vast majority of medicines can be categorized into general pharmaceutical or medical waste – unless they are cytotoxic or cytostatic.
  • Gloves, aprons, gowns, and used plastic packaging (like empty syringes and IVs), bandages and gauzes will be hazardous/offensive waste – if the patient isn’t infected with any disease (also known as trace-chemotherapeutic waste), or it will be designated infectious waste if there is a risk of contamination.

Separating medical waste streams for safe disposal

It is vital to understand the different types of medical waste and separate them accordingly, in order to protect healthcare workers and other patients and to dispose of the waste safely and effectively.

Different types of medical waste require different disposal techniques to ensure that any infectious materials cannot contaminate or spread to other areas.

Some general medical waste can be disposed of in a landfill. Some requires specialist treatment such as a medical incinerator.

The vast majority of medical waste must be incinerated to ensure that all traces of infections or pathogens are completely destroyed.

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2. 9 Compelling Reasons Proper Medical Waste Disposal is Important

Patriot Shredding Healthcare Waste Medical Waste Disposal ServicesWithout proper medical waste disposal, this hazardous material has the potential to do harm. It can spread disease, impact the water supply, wildlife, and your reputation.

Reinforcing the importance of medical waste disposal with your staff helps you create a worker-safe, patient-safe and environmentally-safe workplace.

But the impact reaches far beyond your medical facility.

Let’s look at 9 compelling reasons not to take medical waste disposal lightly.

Medical Waste Is Dangerous

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies medical waste in the following categories:

  • Infectious – Blood, bodily fluids, cultures and stocks of infectious agents used for research, laboratory animal waste. This also includes bandages and disposable equipment from patients in isolation.
  • Pathological – Human tissue and contaminated lab animal carcasses
  • Sharps– Needles, syringes, broken glass and blades that could injure someone or expose someone to infection
  • Chemicals – Solvents and disinfectants, batteries and heavy metals from medical devices, mercury from thermometers or compact fluorescents
  • Pharmaceuticals– Expired, unused or contaminated medications
  • Genotoxic – Mutagenic, carcinogenic, teratogenic substances such as those used in cancer treatment
  • Radioactive – Mostly diagnostic materials and radiotherapy materials
  • General – Other waste generated in the medical setting that isn’t inherently hazardous

WHO estimates that as much as 15% of medical waste falls into a non-general category. That’s a lot of harmful waste. It has the potential to significantly impact the environment.

Risks to Staff

Even before you dispose of medical waste, staff could be harmed. Sharps or infectious materials don’t go into standard waste receptacles for a reason. They can harm those picking up and transporting what they believe to be a general waste.

This puts medical workers and support staff alike at risk of contracting devastating diseases like:

  • Hepatitis
  • HIV
  • Ebola
  • Syphilis
  • Malaria

Some of these diseases can have life-long impacts and even represent a death sentence for the infected.

Risks To Community

You must also consider the risk to the community at large.

Traditionally transported medical waste ends up in landfills. It poses an immediate risk to those in the area. But it also leaches harmful substances into the air, land, and water.

Many of these substances have a long half-life, so they take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down.

During this time more waste is added. The potency of the contamination goes up.

Water Supply

Without proper medical waste disposal, medical waste works its way into the water supply. It soaks through the soil to enter the groundwater.

This groundwater then flows into nearby springs, streams, and rivers. But it doesn’t stop there. Medical waste can spread far beyond the original dumpsite.

This water is the same water that will  — at some point — become human drinking water. Traditional means can’t decontaminate it. It poses a risk to humans who use water for drinking and food preparation.

Wildlife & Human Population

Without proper medical waste disposal, medical waste eventually reaches our oceans. There, plants and other sea life absorb them.

As you move up the food chain, many of these toxins continue to grow more potent. Eventually, a fish that is near the top of the food chain like tuna becomes dangerous to those who consume it.

Medical waste in the water supply exposes wildlife to the toxic effects of medical waste substances which can, in both wildlife and human, cause:

  • birth defects
  • Mutations
  • Increased cancer risk
  • General health maladies
  • Exposure to potentially deadly diseases


This area needs further research. But initial studies demonstrate that even relatively “harmless” medical waste like ibuprofen can impact plant growth.

It can weaken root systems, but beyond that, little is known of far-reaching these effects could be. This emerging area of concern is still under study.


The CDC warns that improper medical waste disposal could put the nation at significant risk.

In the event of a terrorist devised biological warfare attack, poor waste disposal practices could amplify an attack.

Putting proper controls in place not only protects our public health. It also protects our national security.

Patient Perception/Hospital Brand

This may seem unimportant after we’ve discussed the harm to animals and people. But another point to consider is your hospital or clinic’s reputation.

No one knows whether or not you have proper medical waste disposal practices in place, do they?

But today’s society has an increased focus on protecting the environment. Add to this the increases in investigative reporting. Chances are if you’re not properly managing medical waste, they’ll find you out.

With an increased choice in the medical industry, medical providers need their reputation intact to compete in the industry.

Patients care about whether you care about their well-being and safety, as well as the environment.

Compliance With Guidelines And Laws

According to the CDC, medical waste requires careful disposal and containment before it’s collected.

For initial disposal, the CDC recommends the standards of OSHA, the agency responsible for the health and safety of workers.

OSHA states that medical waste is to be disposed of in puncture-proof containers. These should be put in a 2nd puncture-proof container if somehow damaged. All medical waste containers should be labeled to comply with federal law.

Federal law states that medical waste is to be disposed of regularly so that it doesn’t accumulate within a facility.

It also requires that a clearly defined medical waste processing plan be in place for any facility that produces regulated waste.

Regulated medical waste is then transported to an approved autoclave treatment facility for sterilization before it is taken to a landfill.  Other substances that are not destroyed by steam sterilization are transported to an approved incineration plant for complete destruction.

Failure to properly manage regulated waste could result in hefty fines and penalties from the Health Department.

Medical Waste Disposal You Can Trust

You’re busy taking care of patients and managing your practice. You need a regulated waste disposal service that you can trust to make disposal easy and seamless.

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