Medical Waste Disposal: The Least You Need To Know

Medical waste is more than just a disgusting nuisance -- it actually poses a direct threat to anyone in contact with it. Here are some essential thing you should know if you own or work at a clinic that deals in this type of byproduct.

Which Items Count as Medical Waste

Before your company can dispose of medical waste efficiently, you have to understand which items meet this description under the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988. This act of Congress updated and clarified standards originally set down by the Solid Waste Disposal Act. It identifies the following types of items as medical waste:

  • Infectious biological samples and cultures
  • Any tissues removed from a living or dead body
  • Bodily fluids such as blood and blood products (both liquid and dried), urine, feces, phlegm, lymph, and other substances
  • Non-reusable medical equipment that has come in contact with a person, such as used bandages or suture thread
  • Surgical gloves and other contaminated, non-reusable clothing or accessories
  • Used dialysis products, substances, and accessories
  • Used "sharps" (syringes, surgical scalpels, and any sharp-edged glass items)

Specific Disposal Methods

Different types of medical waste require different disposal methods under law. Any items that you can tell are saturated with blood or other potentially infectious substances should be placed in a specific type of red biohazard bag called a Registered Medical Waste (RMW) container. These containers are designed to prevent leakage of any such substances. Other types of waste are grouped together as solid waste, with the exception of linen. Linen saturated with bloody or other infectious material should be stored in a designated Biohazard Laundry Bin. These precautions help medical waste disposal companies handle and destroy the various categories of items in the safest manner possible. Sharps must always be placed in sealed sharps containers before disposal.

Disposal Options for Your Business or Organization

No matter where your clinic or laboratory is located, you can find a medical waste disposal service willing to travel to your institution and pick up your waste products on a predetermined schedule. Of course you need to pre-sort and package the waste products as outlined above; if your materials aren't ready, the company may refuse them. Other factors to consider when arranging for medical waste pickup include:

  • Making sure you understand the next payment date so your service isn't cut off unexpectedly
  • Informing your service of any changes in the pickup schedule you need to make as far in advance as possible

Assisting Patients With Waste Disposal Needs

If your medical organization prescribes at-home care for your patients, some of those treatments probably generate a degree of medical waste. Diabetics, for instance, may have to inject themselves with insulin on a regular basis. Needles and other sharps pose an immediate threat to sanitation workers who pick up residential garbage. Most individuals don't have the know-how or the resources to destroy their sharps before disposing of them. Your can help alleviate this health threat in a couple of ways:

  • Education - Educate your patients on the importance of disposing of sharps in such a manner that they cannot transfer contagions to others who may handle them. For instance, make home needle users aware of the North American Syringe Exchange Network, which facilitates safe exchanges of used needles for sterile ones. 
  • Disposal assistance - You can charge a nominal fee to accept medical waste from your patients for proper disposal. Simply categorize and package the incoming waste appropriately and then include it in your regular load for pickup by your commercial medical waste removal service.

The best way to ensure that you're pursuing a smart and safe waste disposal strategy is to consult a medical waste removal company in your area. Once you know you're disposing of those potentially hazardous materials properly, you can rest a lot easier about the health and well being of your clients and staff!