By Harry Smith
There are many caveats worth taking a closer look at when it comes to medical waste. For most people, medical or bio-waste is just a byproduct of daily business operations. But then, there are definitely a few more things you should know about bio-waste. For starters, there are several different names for medical waste, but in essence, it’s all the same thing. People will generally refer to medical waste as biomedical waste, healthcare waste, infectious medical waste, clinical waste, regulated medical waste (RMW), and bio-waste (biohazardous waste). In addition to having various names, bio-waste is classified by categories, some of which are industry-specific. Nevertheless, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s go over everything you need to know about medical waste and proper disposal of it.
Categories of Medical Waste
There’s more than one type or class of medical waste. In fact, there are approximately eight different categories of bio-waste. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the most common types is infectious waste. Waste that’s classified as contagious or infectious typically includes blood or other body fluids. Infectious waste is also waste that potentially has cultures or other contagious agents. Another category of RMW is pathological waste. Here, you’ll generally find either animal or human tissue/organs, body fluids, and body parts. Medical waste also includes sharps (needles, syringes, and others). In fact, any item or edge that can tear through a plastic bag falls under the category of sharp waste. Chemical waste is the fourth classification of bio-waste and usually refers to disinfectants, solvents, reagents used in lab prep, batteries, heavy metals, and more. These four types of RMW are often the most common.
That said, there are still four more categories—pharmaceutical, cytotoxic, radioactive, and non-hazard/general waste. Pharmaceutical waste is essentially expired, contaminated, or unused drugs/vaccines. Cytotoxic waste, on the other hand, is any substance that contains genotoxic properties. A prime example of this type of medical waste is drugs used for cancer treatments. Though life-altering for cancer patients, these drugs have properties that are toxic to living cells. Radioactive waste contains radionuclides or radiotherapeutic materials. Finally, general or non-hazardous waste is simply waste that doesn’t include any particularly hazardous materials or agents.
Industries That Generate RMW
Many businesses and industries generate medical or regulated medical waste. The most obvious sector is healthcare. Here, hospitals, dental offices, urgent cares, physician practices, research labs, nursing or assisted living facilities, and funeral homes tend to be the biggest producers of medical waste in the healthcare industry. Home healthcare organizations and retail health clinics also produced a significant amount of biomedical waste. Similarly, veterinarian clinics, pest control, and park management create medical bio-waste that needs to be properly disposed of on a daily basis. These particular businesses tend to deal more with animal or wildlife carcasses, potentially hazardous chemicals, and infectious agents. Other industries that create bio-waste include tattoo/body art shops, beauty, personal grooming, spas, and medical clinics.
With biomedical waste, businesses typically have two options—treatment and disposal. Treatment of medical waste is generally used to sterilize or disinfect in specific instances. However, usually, treatment is a necessary step in preparing hazardous waste for disposal. Nevertheless, there are four standard treatment options when it comes to bio-waste – chemical, autoclaving, microwaving, and incineration. Chemical treatment tends to be the most effective in neutralizing other harmful substances. Autoclaving, however, is a common treatment practice that uses high-pressurized steam to sterilize a whole host of items and materials. Likewise, microwaving uses high-powered equipment to prep medical waste for the disposal process, while incineration is primarily used for the disposal of pathological waste.
Once healthcare or biomedical waste has been separated per state and local guidelines, then it’s time for collection, transportation, and proper disposal. There are a few options available when it comes to the disposal of medical waste. For instance, you can choose to have your RMW handled on or off-site. If you do decide to have your infectious waste discarded on-site, you’ll need the necessary equipment which doesn’t come cheap. Generally, hospitals and well-funded healthcare organizations tend to be the only businesses or institutions that can afford to have their medical waste disposed of on-site.
Off-site disposal, also known as outsourcing, can occur either one of two ways—by truck service or by mail service. Truck service means you’ve partnered with a licensed and experienced medical waste disposal company, which means they will now handle the collection, transportation, treatment, and proper disposal of RMW. Alternatively, mail service allows you to send your medical waste via the US Postal Service, which is ideal for small practices or businesses that produce a low volume of RMW.
It’s crucial that you and your staff utilize best practices for proper biomedical waste management and compliance. This means that the correct containers (bags and bins) need to be used. Moreover, it’s highly recommended that you create a color-coding system and sort your bio-waste per the appropriate categories. Note that proper storage of RWM is vital, and you should always make it a point to separate your medical and non-medical waste. Other best practices include staying apprised of both federal and state laws regarding medical waste disposal. You should also make sure that you provide the correct documentation for transport and inspection. Lastly, to ensure everything goes off without a hitch, partner with an experienced and reliable medical waste disposal company.
Ultimately, having a thorough understanding of medical waste will ensure that you can properly discard it. Now that we’ve touched upon the basics, you should be able to safely handle your medical waste, or at least be able to rest assured knowing that your RMW is being processed correctly. If you’re currently looking for a reputable bio-waste disposal company, but are unsure where to begin, start by checking with other businesses in your industry or look for local companies online.