What is biomedical waste?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines medical waste as: All waste materials containing blood or other potentially infectious material which could drip or flake generated at health care facilities, such as hospitals, clinics, physician’s offices, dental practices, blood banks, and veterinary hospitals/clinics, as well as medical research facilities and laboratories.

The Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 defines medical waste as “any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment, or immunization of human beings or animals, in research pertaining thereto, or in the production or testing of biologicals.”

Biomedical waste is different from general waste and differs from other types of hazardous waste. Because of the potential for causing harm, biomedical waste requires careful and proper cleanup and disposal.

The Eight Categories of Medical Waste

Some categorize medical waste into 4 types, while others say there are 6 types. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies medical waste into 8 types/categories:

  1. Infectious to potentially infectious waste – waste materials that can pose a risk of infection to humans, animals, and the overall environment.
  2. Sharps waste –needles, scalpels, knives, etc.
  3. Pathological waste – Animal carcasses and human Tissues, organs, body parts, and body fluids removed during surgery or autopsy
  4. Radioactive waste – waste that contains or has touched radioactive material
  5. Chemical waste – agents, solvents, reagents used in a lab
  6. Pharmaceutical waste – Expired, unused, and contaminated medicines and vaccines
  7. Cytotoxic waste: contains substances with genotoxic properties such as drugs used in cancer treatment
  8. Non-hazardous or general waste: waste that does not pose any particular biological, chemical, radioactive or physical hazard or risk.

Why is it important to have trained and qualified people to cleanup biomedical waste?

Put simply, humans, animals, and the environment, in general, are at risk from biomedical waste. If it is not handled or disposed of properly, biomedical waste poses and an immediate danger and may have long-lasting negative effects on the individual or environment.

In addition to protecting the environment and the health of individuals and the community, correct biomedical waste cleanup can reduce your legal liability.

Stages of Biomedical Waste Cleanup and Disposal

1. Collection and Segregation: the waste is collected and sorted into specific containers to isolate and manage the waste

  • RED Sharps Container – needles, staples, blades, etc.
  • RED Container or RED liner in a labeled container – biohazards such as blood, IV tubing, infectious waste, etc.
  • YELLOW container – trace chemo materials such as gloves, gowns, tubing, wipes, etc.

2. Storage and Transportation – safe transport of the above containers is crucial to protecting the general public and food sources/areas of food consumption

3. Treatment – medical waste must be treated in order to reduce the hazard to people, and to maintain the environment. The treatment process is commonly known as sterilization.

The Most Common Ways Biomedical Waste is Treated:

  • Incineration-Mostly used for pathological waste
  • Thermal (autoclave)- Most common form of biomedical waste treatment
  • Irradiative (microwave) – typically for small quantities and sharps containers

4. Disposal – Local regulations and guidelines are in place and provide the best way to dispose of biomedical waste. These regulations and guidelines must be followed.  Alabama Department of Environmental Management or ADEM sets the regulations for the state of Alabama regarding biomedical/medical waste.

We have attempted to make this article as simple as possible to understand, but biomedical waste cleanup is an incredibly complex issue.  There are so many variables, as well as ways that you or your staff may be endangered from handling biomedical waste. If you have any questions or concerns at all about whether or not you know how to properly clean up and dispose of medical waste, please call on Alabama Bio-Clean. We are here to help and protect you.