Medical Waste Disposal Methods

Posted by author Dawn DeVroom on Fri, Jan 10, 2020

Medical waste disposal requires a specialized level of care. 

Toxicity concerns are considerable when it comes to managing medical waste, but so are the sheer number of waste types found in facilities that typically produce medical waste. 

Each waste type - whether hazardous, solid waste, universal, pharmaceutical, chemotherapy or another type - may have its own set of requirements for disposal. Even the volume of the waste may determine how it is disposed of.  

If you manage a hospital, research facility, pharmacy, blood blank, dental office, nursing home or other type of healthcare institution in the United States, you know the importance of proper medical waste disposal. 

As a waste generator, you are responsible for managing all aspects of your waste, from the moment it is generated to its final disposal. Not doing so will put you in jeopardy of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and may result in substantial fines and penalties. 

Disposing is more than simply driving the waste to the landfill, however. Certain medical waste must be treated before it is properly disposed of, while other items can be recycled to help promote your institution’s sustainability efforts. 

Below we’ll explore these processes, as well as what you need to know about resources available that can help you properly dispose of your medical waste. 


Treatment And Disposal


medical-waste-1Before any waste is disposed of in landfills, it must be determined whether that waste is safe. There are several treatment technologies that sterilize medical waste before it is disposed of, effectively making it less hazardous.

Treatment of medical waste helps ensure infectious waste, potentially infectious materials or toxic items do not seep into the soil or nearby water sources at landfills and create a risk to the environment and the general public.

Below are some of the treatments being used today:

  • Autoclaving - provides sterilization through steam. Though autoclaving is a good solution for sterilizing microbiological wastes, it is not an appropriate solution for other types of waste such as pathological and toxic chemicals.
  • Chemical disinfection - is usually reserved for chemical and liquid waste. Chlorine is a common chemical used during this process. The types of microorganisms in the waste and how contaminated the product is determines whether this is an effective choice for sterilization. 
  • Irradiative sterilization - uses the same technology as microwaves to disinfect waste. Waste is shredded and mixed with water. The waste is then heated so that all biological elements are neutralized. 
  • Incineration - typically used as a disposal method for pathological waste and pharmaceutical waste. During this process, medical waste incinerators reach temperatures as hot as 2,000 degrees F. Trace chemotherapy waste is permitted under California law to undergo the incineration process. 




Certain kinds of medical waste can be disposed of through recycling. Although most items one would think of as “medical” must go through special procedures for disposal, there are several items found in medical, pharmaceutical and research facilities that can simply be recycled. 

For example, items commonly found include:

  • Office paper and cardboard
  • Aluminum and steel cans and other food containers
  • Glass bottles
  • Plastic containers
  • Newspapers

In fact, the World Health Organization points out that of all the waste produced by healthcare activities, 85% of that waste is non-hazardous

In addition to the solid waste items mentioned above, several items found in medical facilities are considered universal hazards, such as:

  • Fluorescent lights
  • Pesticides
  • Batteries 
  • Lamps
  • Electronic devices
  • CRT glass
  • Non-empty aerosol cans

Though many of these items are recyclable, they cannot simply be thrown into a recycling bin and instead require proper sorting and removal by an experienced medical waste disposal vendor


Disposal Help


Knowing the proper disposal methods for each type of medical waste that your facility generates is critical to ensuring that you meet all waste disposal guidelines. 

Hazardous waste, certain controlled substances and even dental waste streams all require very specific disposal methods to ensure hazardous chemicals and substances do not cause devastating effects. Even the same type of waste may require different disposal methods depending on the quantity.

It’s also important to note that your particular substance disposal procedures may differ from another organization’s, even when disposing of the same substance, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

That’s why it is important to work with a trusted and experienced medical waste disposal provider to ensure your waste streams are disposed of properly and according to your specific requirements. 

When choosing a medical waste handling and disposal partner, look for a company that:

  • Identifies wastes using sampling and testing methods
  • Offers prompt pickups and scheduled pickups to meet your needs based on your waste volume
  • Handles all required paperwork associated with your waste
  • Transports waste to recycling or disposal sites

It’s also essential that a company you choose has extensive experience in medical waste. There are many hazardous waste disposal vendors in the market. Not all hazardous waste disposal companies have experience in medical waste disposal.

Medical waste disposal is a very specialized field and requires the utmost care and experience to ensure that you accurately identify your waste stream, characterize it and properly transport it. 

Our article, Choosing The Right Vendor For Medical Waste Disposal Los Angeles, explores the experience level that your waste disposal company should have, as well as how you can ensure your transporter is registered and legal. 


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