Medical waste can come from multiple facilities, especially in the health sector. Since it contains harmful and infectious components, it is certainly one of the more challenging types of waste to dispose of. That is why you can use this medical waste disposal guide, to stay on top of medical waste disposal management, and not be hit by HIPAA regulations or lawsuits.
Before we discuss how to dispose of medical waste properly, let us first define what it is, and the types of medical waste that hospitals, pharmacies, dental clinics, doctor’s offices, etc. dispose of daily. Knowing what medical waste is and how to categorize it accordingly is one of the first few crucial steps to its proper disposal.
What is Medical Waste?
Medical waste is a type of waste produced from the medical or science sector. According to a 2018 study, the US alone produces more than 5.9 million tons of medical waste every year, and that only constitutes the medical waste from hospitals. That does not yet include medical waste produced from dental practices, home care, vets, and pharmacies.
There are various kinds of waste being produced each day. So, how is this segregated? Waste only becomes classified as “medical waste” when it contains or is from at least one of the following:
Types of Medical Waste
Where to Dispose of Medical Waste
Now that you have a clearer picture of what medical waste is, let us now move on to where it should be disposed of.
On-Premises vs Off-Premises
Should medical wastes be taken care of within the health facility itself or should it be dumped off at other facilities? The answer to that question is largely based on what the hospital can afford. Usually, it is only larger hospitals that feature state-of-the-art waste disposal equipment to take care of their medical wastes. That is because it is expensive to buy and maintain all the equipment that a hospital needs to get rid of all its waste properly.
So, for the smaller medical facilities, they typically utilize waste transport services. These services can help them transport their waste to a licensed facility that can properly destroy their waste. Usually, they come in the form of truck services.
Another type of transport service is the Postal Service. Small clinics, hospitals, centers, and nursing homes can safely use mail or boxes to transport their waste to facilities that can permanently get rid of the waste. This is said to be the most affordable way that a smaller health center can manage their medical waste.
However, these cover most of the types of medical waste except one, which are sharps and needles. They require a more delicate approach when it comes to getting rid of them. That is because if handled wrong, they are health risks to not only health workers, but also to the general public. We will talk about that in the next section.
As stated earlier, disposal of sharps and needles should be handled with utmost care and importance. Since, they can pierce the skin, health workers can accidentally prick themselves from mishandling these “dirty” needles, which can potentially infect them with serious diseases. Aside from medical staff, pretty much anyone who comes in contact with improperly disposed sharps and needles can fall victim to this type of injury. Fair warning is advised when disposing of sharps and needles.
Here is a guide to the process of correctly disposing of these high-risk medical waste:
Usually, sharps and needles come in a container where you can dispose of used needles. Take note that these containers are puncture-resistant, providing that extra layer of protection. Plus, these containers are also labeled to make all people aware that what is inside is extremely dangerous.
When you the container is already piling up, note that it should only be filled to about ¾ full, and not all the way to the brim of the container. Once that is done, you need to follow these next few steps, so that you can be sure of what to do:
- Seal the container tightly.
- Put the container on the red liner (the box that the container was shipped in).
- There should be a twist and tie attachment on the cover, tie it securely.
- Place the red bag into its postage storage box.
- Follow the box’s instructions on how to close it.
- Write down your return address on the label of the box.
- Now that you have sealed the box securely, you can now give it to your local mail carrier, so that they can ship it to the right medical waste facility.
That is the gist of how to stay on top of handling these risky types of medical waste. Again, use caution when it comes to disposing of these sharps and needles, as they can potentially contain life-threatening diseases, such as Hepatitis or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV.
Quick But Important Tips/Reminders
Other Medical Waste Disposal
So, a quick recap; we have already discussed medical waste, the disposal of medical waste, and how to handle the disposal of sharps and needles. Now, let us discuss the other ways that you can dispose of your medical waste. There are quite a few of them; mainly:
Basically, the autoclaving method is sterilization by the use of steam. This process renders the hazardous waste as non-infectious, making it possible to throw away in solid waste landfills. They can also be incinerated afterwards.
Before we discuss what this method does, you should note that this process is not yet widely accepted as a proper way to dispose of waste. This is still under its development phase. Having said that, the biological method enables the use of enzymes to counterbalance the harmful organisms in those medical waste.
This type of waste disposal method centers around taking care of chemical-related waste. Simply put, reactive chemicals are applied onto these chemical waste to neutralize it, and make it inactive.
Did you know that incineration was used to destroy more than 90% of medical waste before August of 1997? Well because in that year, the US Environmental Protection Agency or US EPA disseminated regulations on emission standards. That is due to the growing concern of the quality of the air, which may affect the overall health of a person. This led to other means of disposal. However, for pathological waste, this is still the only method to properly destroy it.
This method also makes medical waste non-hazardous. Thus, making it safe to be thrown away to landfills. As the name of this method implies, healthcare waste is microwaved using powerful equipment to destroy harmful bacteria and viruses.
Disposal of Medical Waste - Best Practices
The medical industry is currently the third biggest industry in the US in 2020, according to a study by IBISWorld. That could mean multiple things, but it also means that there is a ton of waste produced by the health sector every month. So, what would be the first thing to do when it comes to this?
Firstly, healthcare facilities must be registered with the government as a“Medical Waste Generator”. This step is quite crucial as all medical facilities are regulated by state law and must adhere to it. The next step is to always segregate waste, which is usually required by each state.
On top of that, you can also observe a few guidelines below, so that you can always stay on top of your medical waste disposal practice:
Upon the expiry of the 1988 Medical Waste Tracking Act in 1991, the EPA has not had any authority over regulation of medical waste, specifically. These are now mostly regulated by environmental and health dpeartments per state. It's best to contact your local agencies for assistance in these maters.
It's also good to that that federal agencies such as (but not limited to the) Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have their own regulations covering medical waste disposal.
Normally, you can visit your local hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office, since they can help you dispose of it, especially sharp waste. It is vital that you do not throw away sharps and needles in the recyclable bin as these cannot be recycled anymore.
A few examples of medical waste include culture dishes, glassware, bandages, gloves, tissue, and discarded sharps such as needles and scalpels.
Disposing of medical waste is easier said than done. That is why it is vital that you stick to the implemented laws and guidelines to help you dispose of it in the right way. Doing so in an unseemly manner can lead to harmful effects and could lead to a public safety hazard. So, it is always best to stay extra careful, for your sake and those around you – whether you work in the health care sector or not.