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Medical waste is “waste sufficiently capable of causing infection during handling and disposal.”
Biomedical waste, biohazardous waste, clinical waste, regulated medical waste (RMW), healthcare waste, infectious medical waste.
Types of medical waste
- Sharps – Needles, lancets, glass shards, razors, scalpels, and other objects that can pierce one’s skin.
- Infectious – Used swabs, equipment, lab cultures, tissues, and excreta.
- Radioactive – Radiotherapy and lab research liquids, including contaminated holding containers.
- Pathological – Contaminated animal carcasses, human tissue, body parts, blood, and other bodily fluids.
- Pharmaceuticals – Vaccines, antibiotics, pills, and injectables that are expired, unused, or contaminated.
- Chemical – Heavy metals for medical equipment (mercury), batteries, solvents, and disinfectants.
- Genotoxic – Highly dangerous waste that can be teratogenic, carcinogenic, or mutagenic (drugs for cancer treatment).
- General non-regulated – this type of waste is non-hazardous.
Healthcare providers must follow the national and state regulations, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). One must never dispose of waste in improper ways. For instance, prescription drugs should never be flushed down the drain or toilet unless specified on the label or patient information. These drugs can be disposed of through community pharmaceutical return programs or collection events.
To dispose of prescription drugs, one must take them out of their containers, mix them with an undesirable substance, put them in a disposal container with a lid, remove all personal information, and place the sealed container with this mixture trash.
Sharps are a health hazard for the public. Thus, they should be disposed of properly. One must not put shards in the waste bin without a specifically designed container. Removing an already tossed needle from the waste should not be attempted.
Medical centers can have onsite and offsite medical waste treatments. The former is expensive to maintain and manage and is used by large organizations. Smaller facilities can use offsite treatment by hiring third-party vendors that collect and dispose of waste by using mail or truck services.
Waste can be processed in the following ways:
- Incineration – Currently, the only method used for pathological waste. In 1997, the EPA regulations changed to restrict the use of burning as a primary type of waste disposal. Before this date, more than 90% of all waste was incinerated.
- Autoclaving – This method uses steam sterilization. It can make biohazardous waste non-infectious. After the procedure, the waste can be disposed of in standard ways.
- Microwaving – By microwaving waste, one can render it non-hazardous. Processed waste becomes non-infectious.
- Chemical – It is used for chemical waste primarily. Reactive chemicals neutralize some types of waste and make them inert.
- Biological – This method is used for infectious organisms. It uses enzymes and is highly experimental.
Steps of medical waste disposal
Knowing the laws is crucial for healthcare workers to classify and dispose of medical waste. The following steps should be remembered:
- Separate waste by type – The types are mentioned above.
- Use proper containers – One must use approved containers for each waste type.
- Prepare containers – All containers must be taped and packaged following the Department of Transportation (DOT) weight restrictions. All containers must be labeled and stored in a secure area before shipping.
- Include documentation – Proper documentation can protect the healthcare provider and the hired firm and be included with every container.
- Use a color code – Sharps go in red puncture-proof containers. Biohazard waste goes in red containers/bags. Chemical waste goes in yellow containers. Pharmaceutical waste goes in black (hazardous) or blue (non-hazardous) containers. Radioactive waste should be stored in shielded containers with a radioactive symbol.
- Hire a reliable waste disposal company.