The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) defines medical waste in a fairly broad manner. The agency states all waste materials generated in a healthcare facility such as blood banks, veterinary hospitals, hospitals, doctor’s offices and clinics, dental offices, as well as laboratories and research facilities is classified as medical waste.
The United States spends more than three billion dollars a year properly disposing of medical waste. This amount is expected to grow more than 4 percent each year. Those who have the highest risk of exposure to these waste materials include patients, healthcare workers, disposal, and waste collection staff. The environment is also at risk when these materials are not properly disposed of, which is why proper disposal is necessary to keep the risks low.
Why You Need to Dispose of Bio-Medical Waste Properly
When bio-medical waste is not properly incinerated or autoclaved, it is incredibly harmful to our soil, water, air, and personal health. There needs to be a complete management system for treating and disposing of your bio-medical waste. This management system will ensure your workplace is safe and your health and those of your employees are not put at risk.
Two Forms of Healthcare Waste Material
There are two forms of health care waste: unregulated medical waste (UMW) and regulated medical waste (RMW). There are approximately 80 to 90 percent of health care waste which is unregulated. These materials are ordinary wastes such as those found in a typical household and consist of paper and plastics that have not come in contact with patients. You can dispose of these materials in accordance with your local municipal regulations.
There is approximately 10 to 25 percent of healthcare waste, which is considered infectious and must, therefore, be considered regulated medical waste. These materials must be handled with exceptional care as they pose a threat to human health. This threat can come from either contaminating the environment or by direct contact with an individual. One way to tell the difference between these two forms of waste is to ask yourself whether or not the material can make someone sick or kill them.
Bio-Medical Waste Categories
To know how to dispose of your bio-medical waste properly, you should understand which medical waste your facility is generating. There are eight categories for bio-medical waste:
- Pathological- This form of waste includes human fluids and tissues, as well as body parts and blood
- Pharmaceuticals- These are all contaminated and expired medications
- General Waste- These are materials that contain no risk to human health as they contain no bodily fluids or blood. This category includes your kitchen waste, papers, general sweeping, wrappers, etc.
- Infectious Waste- These waste materials are able to transmit the infection from virus, cultures, swabs, lab cultures, tissues, etc.
- Chemical-Reagents from the lab that have expired, film develop materials and disinfectants
- Sharps- Sharps include your scalpels, needles, blades, knives, etc.
- Radioactive- Liquid that has not been used in radiotherapy, contaminated glassware, or lab research liquids
- Pressurized Containers- These containers include your gas cartridges and gas cylinders
There are special care processes followed with bio-medical waste disposal in how they are stored, collected, treated, and transported. There are four stages:
- Stage 1- In stage 1, the collecting and segregating of materials is addressed.
- Bio-medical waste must be collected in containers which are strong and resilient from breaking while they are being handled.Sharps, syringes, needles, or other contaminated tools cannot be placed in standard waste disposal bins or recycle bins. There also has to be segregation between your solid and liquid bio-medical waste materials. To properly collect and segregate, there have been colored waste containers established with label coding and plastic bag inserts.
- Sharps are placed into red containers
- Biohazard materials are in red containers with red liners
- Trace Chemo wastes are placed into yellow containers
- RCRA Hazardous materials are placed in black containers
- Pharmaceuticals are collected in blue containers
- Radioactive materials should go into a yellow container with the radioactive symbol displayed on the outside
- Stage 2- In stage, 2 storing and transporting of bio-medical waste is addressed. There are specific requirements under the law which must be followed for storage of bio-medical waste materials. These storage areas must not be accessible to the general public, and they must be kept separate from any areas that deal with food consumption. It is required the storage areas contain a freezer or refrigerator unit that is able to be used for the waste if necessary. Some facilities provide protective devices or special vehicles for disposing of, transporting, or handling their bio-medical waste materials.
- Stage 3- Stage 3 is the treatment of bio-medical waste. Your facility should have a professional disposal service working with you to ensure the treatment of your bio-medical waste. You will want to ensure it is being treated according to the regulations set up under the law. Treatment of medical waste involves a number of different processes, including shredding, carts, conveyors, size reduction, compactors, recycling, and sterilization. Some of the equipment that is needed to complete the procedure include:
- Containers and carts to collect the bio-medical waste, such as dumpsters, compactors, or special containers
- Sterilizers which would include size redactors, shredders, or autoclave
- Conveyors to separate the waste into different containers
- Waste handlers such as deliquefying systems, pre-crushers, or compactors
- Incinerator to process bio-medical waste into either ash, gas or heat
Chemical decontamination is another method used for bio-medical waste such as body fluids, sharps, and human blood. It cannot be used for treating anatomical waste, though.
Having the equipment on-site to treat your bio-medical waste is expensive, so most generators of bio-medical waste choose to use off-site treatment facilities. These facilities are regulated medical disposal companies and have the proper medical waste equipment, have been certified and hold certified operating permits, and have OSHA-trained personnel to collect, transport, and store medical waste.
- Stage 4- Stage 4 is concerned with the disposal of your bio-medical waste. Generators of bio-medical waste must adhere to the regulations set up under the law for collecting, storing, transporting, and treating their waste. Once a lot of the bio-medical waste has been appropriately treated, it can be disposed of in a local municipal landfill. Each state and local government has regulations to provide you guidelines to follow in order for you properly dispose of your bio-medical waste.
Three Effective Methods of Disposing Bio-Medical Waste
Healthcare facilities and research laboratories generate medical waste, and about 20 percent of this is considered radioactive, toxic, or infectious. Though this may not sound like a large number, it adds up to millions of tons of waste each year. These numbers mean there is significant demand for bio-medical waste management. These are five of the most effective methods for disposing of these waste materials:
- Chemical Disinfection- Certain forms of biohazard waste, such as animal wastes, are able to be treated with chemical disinfection. Once they have been disinfected, they can then be deposited in a municipal landfill as they are no longer a threat for spreading infections.
- Encapsulation- Bio-medical waste such as your sharps require special precautions. Sharps can tear and puncture their containers easily, and when this occurs, they will spread infections. Scalpels, syringes, and other sharp medical tools require encapsulation. They are to be placed in a puncture-resistant container and properly labeled.
- Autoclaving- This form of disposal uses a heated container to destroy the waste. Autoclaving is one of the most effective methods to deal with bio-medical waste. Almost ninety percent of bio-medical waste is autoclaved or incinerated.
- Incineration– Incineration is mostly used for disposing of pathological waste such as human blood, tissue, and body parts. In the 1990s, it was the first method of choice as waste management, but new EPA regulations caused a shift in this choice to other more effective ways.
- Microwave- With the use of a high-powered microwave, many non-pathological bio-medical wastes can be neutralized, enabling them to be then disposed of in a solid waste landfill.
Bio-medical waste is dangerous when not disposed of properly. It places significant risks on human health and damage to our environment. When you use the proper disposal methods and the services of licensed disposal service, you reduce these risks and ensure you comply with both state and federal laws.
Best Practice for Managing Bio-Medical Waste
Knowing and following the best practices for the disposal of your bio-medical waste means you will avoid regulatory action and reduce your overall costs. It is your responsibility if you are in the healthcare industry to know the laws in your area. You and your employees must be able to sort, color-code, contain, and document all the bio-medical waste your facility generates.
Begin by understanding the laws set forth by DOT, EPA, DEA, and OSHA as well as your local and state agencies. Each agency carries health care waste regulations. If you are unsure of these laws, contact a professional waste management service to work with you.
A trained staff member should perform separation of your bio-medical waste. You should also train all those on staff not to place non-regulated waste into biohazard containers or bags. This action would cost your facility extra expense.
Documentation is essential with proper bio-medical waste disposal. This documenting of your management process will protect both you and your waste disposal service. The correct paperwork is required to travel with the containers and bags throughout their disposal journey.
With the mountain of regulations, liability, and hazards involved in disposing of bio-medical waste, you are best served using a professional, licensed disposal service. Choosing one with predictable rates and who is reliable will save your facility in the long run.