Written by David Skinner
27 Jun 2021

What is Hospital Medical Waste


1 / What is Hospital Medical Waste and What Are the Four Categories of Hospital Waste? 

 Infectious Waste

– Hazardous Waste

 Radioactive Waste

 General Waste

2 / Why Understanding Hospital Medical Waste is an Essential Part of Responsible Medical Practice

What is Hospital Medical Waste and What Are the Four Categories of Hospital Waste?

Hospital medical waste disposal is one of the most important functions of any medical facility. Failure to properly handle and dispose of medical waste can cause environmental hazards and even widespread illness.

Hospital medical waste is any refuse generated through the course of normal hospital operations. While the waste generated from a clothing retailer or a restaurant (for example) can be handled through normal municipal waste collection channels, hospital medical waste must be handled and disposed of in a very regulated manner to ensure clinicians, hospital staff and downstream service staff aren't exposed to potentially hazardous contaminants.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines in the following terms:

"All waste materials generated at health care facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, physician's offices, dental practices, blood banks, and veterinary hospitals/clinics, as well as medical research facilities and laboratories."

However, there are important sub-categories as well. Because hospitals offer a diverse scope of medical processes, testing, and  -- in some cases -- pharmaceutical compounding, there are multiple classifications of medical waste that require different handling, transportation, and disposal methods. Here are four hospital medical waste classifications that demand specific disposal protocols.

Infectious Waste

This category is also commonly known as biohazardous materials. This is waste that could potentially cause the spread of infection, and includes anything that has been exposed to bodily fluids and tissue, either human or animal. This includes blood, cells, bandages, sample flasks and containers, swabs, and all non-reusable items that have been contaminated by potentially infectious material. Infectious waste poses a threat of the spread of pathogens, requiring scrupulous care in its disposal.

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste is waste that poses a threat of harm either through pollution, poisoning, or injury, and is therefore considered dangerous. This includes pharmaceuticals, chemical solvents, and old surgical and examination tools. Though this category of waste does not include materials that could cause harm via infection, it does have the potential to cause significant harm to people and the environment. In hospitals, the majority of hazardous substances fall under the categorization RCRA Hazardous

Radioactive Waste

Numerous diseases are diagnosed and treated using radiology. Cancer therapies use radioactive treatments, and even basic diagnostic technologies like x-rays, mammography, positron emission tomography (PET), and fluoroscopy use radiation. The byproducts that have been exposed to nuclear isotopes are classified as radioactive waste. This waste, if handled and disposed of improperly, could pose widespread health risks.

General Waste

Medical settings produce general waste, which is similar to typical household or office waste. However, because of its proximity to hazardous, biohazardous, and radioactive waste, it must be handled very carefully, as contamination can occur. This category of waste includes paper products, disposable plastics, and food waste.

Why Understanding Hospital Medical Waste is an Essential Part of Responsible Medical Practices

While medical settings have clear-cut biohazardous medical refuse like used needles, blood, and cell matter that require careful disposal, it might still be mistakenly handled improperly during busy periods. It is critically important to follow rigorous waste management protocols so that general waste that could have been contaminated by infectious or radioactive waste materials doesn't end up in landfills.

To learn how Daniels Health can partner with your hospital to ensure safe, responsible, sustainable, and effective hospital medical waste handling and disposal solutions, visit our hospital page here to learn how Daniels' clinically-differentiated approach transforms the waste segregation and environmentally responsible management of all hospital-generated waste streams. Understanding the downstream impact of correct waste segregation and the risk poor internal practices pose to healthcare workers; our approach to hospital waste disposal is predicated on five distinct pillars: 

  • Safety | Protection of Healthcare staff 
  • Sustainability | Protection of the Environment 
  • Efficiency | Minimizing patient interruptions and burden on hospital staff 
  • Compliance | Minimizing risk by upholding regulatory governance 
  • Education | Empowering hospital staff to understand waste segregation 

Partnering with hospitals in the United States for more than 20 years, Daniels focuses on not just "back of dock" waste pickups - because by the time waste reaches the loading dock, all opportunity for safe disposal, elimination of cross contamination of infectious materials, and best-practice waste segregation is no longer possible.

If you're curious why hospitals like Stanford Health, Rush University, Henry Ford and Advent Health choose Daniels for full management of all healthcare waste streams across their hospital sites and clinics, learn more about our unique approach and its transformative impact on hospital waste management. 




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David Skinner

David Skinner

Executive VP - Sales

With over 20 years experience in healthcare and a genuine passion for reinventing the medical waste model of our era to achieve higher infection control standards, David is a walking almanac or, as we call him, the "skinnerpedia" of clinical knowledge.