Medical waste disposal is a high-priority challenge faced by healthcare providers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says 15% of healthcare waste is hazardous material. This material may be infectious, radioactive, or toxic.
Several authorities regulate the disposal of biohazardous waste, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations and epidemiology. Of course, local, state, and federal regulations apply.
What Is Biohazardous Waste?
Biohazardous medical waste is any waste that contains infectious material. It also includes any material that might be infectious, such as waste produced by dentist offices and hospitals.
Also included are laboratories, medical research offices, and veterinary clinics. Private practice doctor offices produce medical waste as well.
Biohazardous waste contains contaminants like blood and body fluids. The 1988 Medical Waste Tracking Act defines biohazardous medical waste as waste generated during medical research and testing of humans or animals.
It is also the byproduct of diagnosis, immunization, or treatment of humans or animals.
Some examples of this include glassware, Petri dishes, and bandages. Other examples are gloves and discarded sharp implements like scalpels and needles. It also includes organic material left on swabs and tissue.
You can use several terms for biohazardous waste. Medical professionals use these terms interchangeably. Whatever the term, all refer to waste created during any given healthcare process.
Common terms include medical waste, clinical waste, and biomedical waste. Other terms include Regulated Medical Waste (RMW), infectious medical waste, and healthcare waste.
But, there is a difference between general healthcare waste and hazardous medical waste. WHO categorizes human tissue, sharps, contaminated supplies, and fluids as “biohazardous.” They categorize non-contaminated equipment and animal tissue as “general medical waste.”
Office paper, waste off the floor and kitchen is medical waste if it is from a healthcare facility. Though, it’s not considered hazardous and isn’t regulated.
There are five types of biohazardous medical waste:
1. Solid Biohazardous Waste
Solid biohazardous waste is any non-sharp material that contacts human or animal specimens. These materials include personal protective equipment (PPE), Petri dishes, towels, linens, and pipettes.
You manage sharps (like scalpels and needles) separate from other items, including any other items that break easily. For example, blood vials and other glass objects become sharp when broken.
How to Dispose of Solid Waste
Healthcare professionals should collect solid waste in a designated container lined by an autoclave bag.
Personnel should mark the autoclave bag with the biohazard symbol. Personnel decontaminates the solid waste can on site by autoclaving. They then dispose of it as regular medical waste, sending it to a pre-approved landfill.
If personnel does not decontaminate onsite, then a waste management company collects it. The waste management company will then dispose of it according to regulation.
2. Liquid Biohazardous Waste
Liquid medical waste is body fluids or blood that may contain an infectious agent. If the liquid is in an amount less than 25 milliliters, healthcare personnel can dispose of it as solid waste.
Any amount over 25 milliliters requires a different disposal method.
How to Dispose of Liquid Waste
Healthcare personnel must collect any liquid biohazardous waste in leak-proof containers. They must secure the container so it doesn’t tip over and label the container as a biohazard.
For extra security, personnel can place the liquid containers in a secondary container, like a tray or bucket.
Personnel can dispose of most liquid waste by treating it with bleach or they can autoclave it as a liquid biohazard. An exception is a liquid that contains body fluid and chemical waste.
Personnel should contact their medical waste disposal provider about that. The provider can provide disposal recommendations and services.
3. Sharp Biohazardous Waste
Sharp biohazardous medical waste is “sharps.” It is any medical device that could be infectious and is sharp enough to puncture the skin. If it can puncture the skin, it can also puncture a plastic bag.
Sharps include items like needles, microscope slides, scalpels, and broken glass vials. Any of these may contain biohazardous material.
How to Dispose of Sharp Waste
The healthcare industry has designated specific containers for collecting sharps. These containers are resistant to puncture, leak-proof, and safe to handle.
Personnel should collect all sharps in these special containers. It doesn’t matter what material is in them. They should label the sharps containers with the correct symbol to identify them.
Plastic serum pipettes aren’t sharp enough to puncture the skin, but they can poke through plastic bags. Personnel should manage them as sharps.
A facility’s local medical waste service provider picks up contaminated sharps.
4. Pathological Biohazardous Waste
Pathological waste includes any removed animal or human organs, tissues, and body parts. Any of these may contain infectious agents.
Waste materials from a biopsy procedure fall into this category. Another example is anatomical parts that personnel removed during autopsies or surgeries.
How to Dispose of Pathological Waste
Healthcare personnel should double-bag pathological waste to prevent leaks. Personnel should then store it in a secondary container as they would liquid waste.
From there, they dispose of it by incineration or other chemical treatment. Autoclaving is not appropriate for pathological waste.
5. Microbiological Waste
Microbiological waste is most common in laboratories. Examples are disposable culture dishes and specimen cultures. Other examples include discarded viruses and devices that technicians use to mix cultures.
Microbiological waste contains infectious agents, microorganisms, and biologicals. This category includes discarded causal agents created by biological and antibiotics production.
These wastes may contain pathogenic organisms. Finally, microbiological waste comes from clinical or research procedures involving communicable infectious agents.
How to Dispose of Microbiological Waste
Many hospitals autoclave their microbiological wastes. Then they take them to the waste storage area. Personnel treats them onsite depending on what other category the waste falls.
For example, if it’s a sharps waste, then personnel places it in to the designated container. The same protocol applies for solid or liquid waste.
State Guidelines for Disposing of Biohazardous Medical Waste
This article presented general guidelines for disposing of biohazardous medical waste. Local guidelines also apply. And, these guidelines vary per state.
Please contact us with any questions about biohazardous medical waste disposal in Florida.