Medical Waste - What you Should Know
What exactly is medical waste? To start, not all medical waste is created equal. Different organizations have slightly different definitions of medical waste and, in addition, each state has unique regulations and guidelines regarding medical waste disposal.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines medical waste as "any solid waste which is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals." Whilst the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines medical waste as "red bag or infectious waste containing blood or bodily fluids that are: pourable, drippable, squeezable, or flakeable."
What does that mean for your facility and your waste management practices? Firstly it is your responsibility as a waste generator to understand not only the federal regulations governing the handling and disposal of medical waste, but also your local state guidelines - ensuring your facility is in direct compliance with state governances.
Understanding the Classifications around Medical Waste
At Daniels Health, we know it can get confusing. The classification of medical waste clearly outlines ‘body fluid contaminated materials’ and yet urine, saliva, vomit, feces, and other body fluids that do not contain blood are not categorized as medical waste. So exactly how is medical waste categorized?
Regulated medical waste (RMW) - a.k.a. infectious medical or biohazardous waste, defining any type of waste contaminated by body fluids, blood, or infectious materials. The Environmental Protection Agency has defined medical waste streams or categories such as:
- Microbiological waste - culture dishes, attenuated and live vaccines, any type of organism deemed pathogenic
- Human blood and blood products – this includes plasma, serum, or other blood components
- Isolation wastes - discarded materials containing body fluids or secretions of humans or animals and biological waste. This category also includes waste from humans or animals in isolation and is designed to protect others from communicable disease
- Pathological waste - human body parts, tissues, or organs removed during a surgical procedure, autopsy, trauma, clinical trials and studies, or other hospital procedures
- Contaminated sharps - including those disposed of in a sharps container
Uncontaminated sharps - used during surgery or autopsies that have come into contact with infectious agents including dressings, surgical gloves, drainage, sponges, and so on. This category also includes dialysis wastes that come into contact with blood, as well as discarded laboratory waste (includes slides, laboratory coats, and so on).
Surely that’s it? Unfortunately no, the regulations do not stop here. Additional organizations involved in the regulation of medical waste include the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Classifications from these two groups include:
- Sharps waste - defined as "objects capable of cutting or penetrating skin" (ISO Standard 2390 7:2012)
- Pharmaceutical waste – defined as hazardous or non-hazardous. Non-hazardous waste may include expired pharmaceuticals, manufacturer samples, and damaged or contaminated containers. The EPA defines hazardous pharmaceutical waste as any item that is designated within the EPA waste code, or waste that is deemed toxic, corrosive, ignitable, or reactive.
- Hazardous Chemotherapy waste - defined as that which still contains 3% or more (by weight of its original capacity), material used to clean up chemotherapy spills, or waste designated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as a hazardous waste. This can include syringes, tubing, IV bags and chemotherapy drug containers.
Why Effective Segregation is important
Disposal of different types of waste comes with different cost considerations in regard to segregation and removal. The highest costs are those associated with hazardous waste management, closely followed by regulated medical waste. For healthcare facilities, the effective segregation management of each of its waste streams is paramount to staff safety, occupational risk management and cost management. The over-classification of waste can result in thousands of dollars being spent unnecessarily on higher-class handling and treatment, and the under-classification of waste can result in occupational risks, compliance breaches and fines. It’s a delicate balance but one that is important to get right.
Beyond the classification of healthcare-generated waste streams, there are various standards that regulate the type and color of containers used for the collection of medical waste and sharps disposal, together with specific requirements around labeling and secondary packaging. As a healthcare provider, it is important that you and your staff understand what waste streams are being disposed of and, further to this, that they are being disposed of in the correct bin!
How Daniels Health partner with you
In 2017 alone, Daniels Health containers prevented roughly 4,250 needle stick injury incidents, diverted over 2,000 tons of plastic from landfills, and saved healthcare facilities approximately $25 million in waste management costs through effective segregation and compliance management. Our leading Medismart system achieved a 66% average reduction in labor costs across US healthcare facilities, and our Chemosmart Chemotherapy waste containers prevented over 33% of plastic from each container used being sent to landfill. We are passionate about driving cost and environmental impact reduction for our customers – every facility where we can segregate better… we’re protecting staff and patients and we are protecting our environment.
We help you understand medical waste, sharps disposal, chemotherapy waste handling and hazardous and non-hazardous pharmaceutical segregation. We have a team of clinical experts, compliance experts and over 300 years of combined industry experience across our organization to handle every issue pertaining to the correct and compliant management of healthcare waste. To understand more about segregation, review our comprehensive library of educational posters here. Or if you would like to talk to one of our team about your medical waste needs, please reach out to one of our team here – we would love to hear from you.