Types of Medical Waste & How to Categorize
If you work in a healthcare facility, you are most likely familiar with the challenge of: What bin does this waste go in? It’s not fun like a gameshow. Drew Carey or Steve Harvey are nowhere to be found, there’s no chance of winning a cash prize or a vacation cruise. The stakes are high — you have to sort the waste properly lest it end up disposed of incorrectly and injure others or the environment. At Daniels Health, we want you to feel confident in being able to sort medical waste compliantly and efficiently. We can’t offer you a fun wheel to spin but we can provide a clearer understanding of proper waste segregation. Let’s start at the basics....
In order to achieve proper Medical waste disposal, all waste generated from any healthcare facility must be compliantly segregated, transported, and destroyed based on federal and state guidelines. Waste streams from any healthcare facility are defined by specific categories, and further defined by the types of waste found within each category (whether the waste is human or animal in nature). Don’t worry, Daniels can dispose of both!
Much like preventing forest fires, waste segregation responsibility starts with you.
Government and state agencies provide procedures regarding the correct disposal of medical waste but it is ultimately up to the medical facility, or healthcare waste generator, to understand the different types and categories of medical waste that exist today. It is important to stay up to date on government and state definitions and guidelines to ensure your facility processes are both compliant and current. We encourage crafting interesting trainings for your staff — make it fun, everyone needs some whimsy in their life!
If you’re already mentally checking out of this article (please don’t, I will take it personally), download our free Waste Segregation brochure from our website and share it with your team. Everyone loves a visual.
Medical Waste Categories
Medical waste is generally categorized as:
- regulated medical waste
- infectious waste
- biohazard waste
In some cases, state guidelines vary in their definition of what is "infectious." While some states adopt definitions found in federal guidelines such as the EPA, OSHA, and DOT, others do not. Research your state’s guidelines — what did you find?
Most states regulate six common categories of medical waste:
- Human blood and blood products - blood that can be poured, dripped, or flaked off of materials/tools
- Pathological waste (human or animal waste that contains organs, tissues, or body parts intended for disposal)
- Contaminated sharps
- Isolation waste - this stream is common in assisted living facilities
- Cultures and stocks of infectious agents (a.k.a. microbiological waste)
- Contaminated animal carcasses, body parts, and bedding
The distinction between anatomical and pathological waste is important; both are derived from the human or animal body
- Pathological waste is unique in that it typically consists of tissue samples examined in laboratory settings. As such, pathological waste generally refers to various small pieces or sections of body materials such as those culled from biopsies or surgical procedures that are then examined in a laboratory.
Anatomical waste is generally distinguishable as a recognizable human or animal body part, tissue, or organ. Handling, segregation, and treatment of each may differ depending on state regulations and guidelines.
Regulated medical waste (RMW) implies biohazardous or infectious waste per US federal regulations definition. This type of waste may consist of any type of waste contaminated with infectious materials, bodily fluids, or blood (blood/fluids that drip, flake, or can be poured).
Medical Waste Types
According to the EPA, types of medical waste are then further defined primarily as either infectious or non-infectious waste. EPA guidelines specify a number of types of medical waste that fall under the "regulated" mandates:
- Pathological waste
- Contaminated sharps - defined by OSHA's blood-borne pathogen standard, this specifies contamination by blood borne pathogens and any other potentially infectious material (OPIM) that may include contaminated needles, broken glass, capillary tubes, scalpels, or even the exposed end of a dental wire
- Uncontaminated sharps - such as discarded cultures, stocks of biologicals or infectious agents, microorganisms and so forth
- Microbiological waste
- Human blood, blood products, or blood components
- Isolation or infectious wastes - meaning biological waste likely contaminated with exudates, excretion, blood, or secretions from humans or animals isolated with virulent diseases such as HIV, toxins, or pathogens. This also means any type of waste with the potential to cause infectious disease, and includes bodily fluids, contaminated blood, or items infected with pathogenic material
- Pharmaceutical Waste - defined by the EPA as any chemical or biological product intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of disease or injury (of human or animal) as well as any biological or chemical product that may influence/affect the function or structure of a human or animal's body
As always, the medical industry is changing with new scientific developments every day. Guidelines provided by the EPA may adapt with advances in technology but are primarily categorized based on two specific characteristics: potential of medical waste to transmit infection or properties of toxicity that might include even low levels of radioactivity. Definitions, standards, and guidelines regarding medical waste streams and treatment protocols differ by country and in the United States, even by state.
Let’s look at California regulations in comparison to Kentucky:
California's Medical Waste Management Act of 2017 guidelines define medical waste categories for:
- Biohazardous waste
- Pharmaceutical waste
- Pathology waste
- Trace chemotherapy waste
Such medical waste includes those involving animal and human treatments, wastes generated through necropsy or autopsies, and may include preparation of remains for cremation or internment, microbiological testing, pathogenic research, and waste generated in trauma scene cleanup.
In Kentucky, the Division of Waste Management defines medical waste as any type that risks contamination with infectious materials, bodily fluids, or blood. Kentucky has no specific regulations in regard to medical waste, and no single agency has jurisdiction over medical waste. This does not mean to imply that regulations do not exist. State regulations exist between labor, transportation, environmental, and public health agencies in that state, all designed to provide protection to the public, personnel, and the environment from potentially infectious medical waste, and exposure to contamination or injury from such medical waste disposal.
Differences between categories and types of medical waste can be confusing. Healthcare requires constant education and that is why it remains one of Daniels fundamental values - partnering with our customers to drive safety, compliance and segregations. Compliance with federal and state regulations comes with another consideration - the risk of fines and/or penalties for breach of state and federal guidelines; our compliance experts work locally to ensure we're meeting our customers needs where they are... accurately, locally.
Daniels makes compliance easy
You are not alone — we are a team. Daniels Health is a leader in sustainable compliance when it comes to medical waste stream generators; ranging from research laboratories to direct patient care to veterinary clinics. We have your back. We focus the most up-to-date knowledge regarding ever-changing federal and state guidelines and regulations in regards to: minimizing waste, reducing the volume of medical waste headed to landfills, and reducing risk of injury to healthcare personnel along all points of care. We encourage using the resources on our website to continue your education. Customers can always reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org as well if you are interested in a comprehensive online Compliance Portal for training, regulation-access and record keeping that makes things even easier.