Written by Megan Chamberlain
13 Sep 2018

A Guide to California Medical Waste Disposal Regulations

Ah, California—the golden state. Land of sea, sunshine, and surfing. It would be a shame if all that natural beauty were contaminated by medical waste.

If you work in any healthcare environment in the state of California, it's up to you to make sure it doesn’t. That's why it's important to have a thorough understanding of the California Medical Waste Management Act—and the team at Daniels Health is here to help you break it down.

Understanding California's Medical Waste Landscape

Familiarity with federal and state guidelines for medical waste management is necessary for your safety and career.

California’s medical waste regulations are extensive and often complicated to understand, especially in dealing with multiple waste streams. Daniels Health is always here to assist medical waste generators in navigating those regulations.

Before diving into any federal or state regulations, knowing the terminology used in any state’s guidelines is necessary. Defining the difference between regulated and non-regulated medical waste is also important to ensure proper waste segregation.

Defining Medical Waste in California

Medical waste in California is defined as:

“any biohazardous, pathological, pharmaceutical, or trace chemotherapy waste not regulated by the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976.” 

In California, medical waste is defined as any waste generated in healthcare or related facilities that poses a potential threat to human health or the environment due to its infectious, hazardous, or pharmaceutical nature.

This includes the disposal of needles as well as biomedical wastes contaminated by the human body such as  human blood-soaked bandages, cultures, tissues, and any items contaminated with other body fluids or infectious agents.

California's regulations on medical waste are stringent and encompass a wide range of items to ensure proper handling, segregation, and disposal, all aimed at safeguarding public health and the environment from potential risks of infection and otherwise associated with healthcare waste.

These regulations also cover the disposal of pharmaceutical waste, expired medications, and unused drugs to prevent their environmental impact and ensure safe disposal practices.

Other Types of Waste

This definition has also grown to include several additional amendments in regard to sharps, chemotherapeutic waste, autopsy or necropsy wastes, and wastes created through testing or production of microbiological materials. It also includes sharps or laboratory wastes that pose a risk to humans, including home-generated sharps.

It’s easy to see how all the intricacies can become confusing, right?

Infectious Agents

California defines infectious agents as microorganisms, bacteria, moulds, parasites, or viruses, which include but are not limited to those managed at biosafety levels II, III, or IV by the CDC. These agents can contribute to increased human morbidity or mortality.

Here at Daniels Health, we believe in striving to mitigate increased morbidity risks at all costs. California’s Medical Waste Management Act (§117600 through §118360) offers specific definitions of terms found in state legislature.

Key Players in Regulated Medical Waste Disposal

Who is involved in regulated medical waste disposal?

Regulated Medical Waste (RMW) contains infectious materials, posing transmission risks. Disposal follows EPA and state-specific rules, emphasizing safety standards in healthcare waste management, overseen by various agencies. These include:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 

This agency regulates any aspect of healthcare waste management that involves worker safety. For example, sharps waste management (including approved sharps containers), how medical waste bags or containers are labelled, the requirements for storage of any medical waste onsite, as well as standards in place that protect workers from exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

The Department of Transportation (DoT) 

The Department of Transportation regulates specific guidelines for how biohazardous waste is transported within state borders. While transportation companies are familiar with these regulations, healthcare facilities and managers should also be aware of the guidelines to reduce risks of liability as well as regulations regarding transportation of a waste generator’s shipments off-site.

It is your responsibility to ensure anyone packaging/transporting waste inside your facility or signing manifests has completed their DoT: RMW training. Daniels Health provides this in our Compliance Portal package. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issues a number of guidelines for infection control measures.

Ensuring Compliance and Protecting Healthcare Workers

The regulated medical waste state locator for California offers in-depth details such as guidelines for segregation and storage, management plans, and registration guidelines for small or large-quantity generators.

Medical waste regulations based on California’s Medical Waste Management Act also define the differences and requirements for registration of small or large-quantity generators (Chapter 4 and 5 respectively) as well as regulations regarding consolidation (117904), and off-site treatment (117905) and specific requirements of each. Your generator size can determine how you dispose of your waste and how often you are legally required to.

Comprehensive Overview of California's Medical Waste Management Act (MWMA)

The Medical Waste Management Act of California’s Health & Safety Code is a 59-page document covering standards and guidelines for California’s medical waste management program. Additional governing regulations are also mandated by California’s Health & Safety Codes 117600 to 118320, as well as regulations under the California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 22, Division 4.5. For example:

  • Hazardous Waste Management System: General (Chapter 10, §66250 - §66260.210)
  • Identification and Listing of Hazardous Waste (Chapter 11, §66261.1 - §66260.210)
  • Hazardous Waste Transporters (Chapter 13, §66263.10 - §66263.50)

Each medical waste stream incurs specific instructions. For example, guidelines for medical waste management applicable to specific medical waste streams are described in the state’s Health and Safety Codes such as:

  • Division 104. Environmental Health [106500 through 119406]
  • Division 104 Part 14. Medical Waste [117600 through 118360]

Transportation requirements, shipping and tracking documents and transfer and treatment facilities are also included in California’s Health & Safety Code as well as California’s numerous medical waste regulations codes. Again, it is extremely important the correct staff members have current DoT: RMW training with certificates of completion.


Navigating California's Medical Waste Regulations

Treatment Methods and Guidelines

California’s guidelines regarding treatment methods are found in Chapter 8 and include:

Containment and Storage Requirements

Specific guidelines regarding containment and storage are found in Chapter 9 of the act and cover such topics as:


Department of Public Health's Role in Regulation

In addition to the organizations mentioned above, California’s Department of Public Health also regulates the handling, future storage, treatment and disposal of medical waste based on the California Department of Public Health’s medical waste management program, which oversees the implementation of compliance with the Medical Waste Management Act.


Special Considerations for Healthcare Waste Identification

Smaller and lesser-known details regarding the identification of medical waste can be found in the Department of Public Health documents. For example, in California, acupuncture needles are deemed medical waste. Practitioners at such clinics are also subject to requirements found under the Medical Waste Management Act (Chapter 4), as well as the Health & Safety Code sections 117915 through 117946. These guidelines also specify that acupuncture needles may not be disposed of in solid waste or transported by the generator to any household hazardous waste facility, but rather picked up by registered medical waste transporters.


Partnering with Daniels Health for Compliance | Medical Waste Management Plans

It’s easy to understand how regulations from different agencies promote confusion that may lead to accidental non-compliance. Daniels Health is here to help you—we’re a team.

Managing Healthcare Waste is Our Expertise

Daniels Health provides reliable support to healthcare generators in the segregation, transportation, and treatment of healthcare waste that maintains complete compliance within state borders. Maintaining compliance is essential for reducing potential risks of federal and state fines and penalties. More money saved from potential fines means more funds to improve patient experiences. We stay on top of ever-changing guidelines and regulations regarding medical waste management, providing sustainable and safe solutions for medical waste segregation and proper disposal. If you would like further help navigating California’s medical waste regulations, call one of our clinical experts today! Alternatively, find out more about our California operations and service capabilities on our California service page here.




Header Style: 
Megan Chamberlain

Megan Chamberlain

Content Strategist

With a little bit of knowledge about a lot of things and a quick wit, Megan was the recipient of the Daniels Pun-Master Award 2017 and is the go-to for fun analogies to explain healthcare waste.