Medical Waste

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Medical Waste Disposal i.e. Medical waste, is broadly classified as any item that comes into contact with body fluids. Specifically, it is any solid waste that is generated in the diagnosis, treatment or immunization of humans. This type of waste was once collected in special bags and plastic boxes in clinical settings and then disposed of like normal trash. However, this process was quickly found to spread diseases and viruses and potentially cause outbreaks.

Today, the red biohazardous containers and bags seen throughout hospitals and doctors’ offices are used to safely remove sharps, needles, and IV catheters that contain any human blood or bodily fluid. Medical waste also includes paper towels, wipes, gloves, syringes without needles, bandages or dressings with small amounts of dry blood or fluid, and any other material from medical care. Syringes with needles or sharp objects that can piece through a plastic bag require a special storage container for additional protection.

Biohazardous Containers safely hold used:

  • Sharps
  • Needles
  • IV Catheters

Medical Waste includes:

  • Paper Towels
  • Wipes
  • Gloves
  • Syringes without Needles
  • Syringes with Needles or Sharp Objects
  • Bandages or Dressings with small amounts of dry blood or fluid
  • Any other material from medical care

Why the Biohazardous Containers

Still considered biohazardous and dangerous for the environment and the general population, this waste cannot be disposed of with everyday trash. Licensed medical waste management companies must collect the refuse and make it safe before recycling.

Sharps Disposal

Sharps disposal can be a tricky business. One needle stick can take a life, or deliver thousands in fines from the EPA or other government bodies. To make things worse, regulations are always in flux, and they can change drastically across state or even local lines.

The tendency is to “err on the side of caution.” Unfortunately, that can also send costs exploding through the roof.

Where’s the “sweet spot” for sharps disposal? In the waste disposal world, knowledge truly is power. Below, find answers to all your questions, from “What are sharps?” to sharps disposal best practices and more.

Image Via: Wikimedia Commons

Sharps can be defined as “any object that can cut or pierce the skin.” In the medical world, there’s an added element from potential contamination by bloodborne pathogens. Because this combination can spread disease, proper sharps disposal is a priority in any healthcare facility.

Here are some examples of sharps requiring special disposal in a sharps container:

  • Needles. Hollow needles used for injecting medications.
  • Syringes. The “plunger” body used to inject drugs. May have needle attached.
  • Lancets. AKA “fingerstick” devices. These short, double-edged blades are used to get blood drops for testing. (Think, “diabetes blood test prick.”)
  • Infusion Sets. Tubing/needle systems used to deliver medications beneath the skin.
  • Epi Pens. Auto injectors pre-filled with epinephrine in case of anaphylactic shock.
  • Insulin Pens. Auto-injectors pre-filled with insulin for diabetics.
  • Connection Needles / Connection Sets. Needles that connect to tubes. Mainly used for home hemodialysis patients.
  • Scalpels and other blades.
  • Scissors used to cut flesh or dressings.
  • Glass. Even unbroken glass that hasn’t necessarily been contaminated may still need sharps disposal.
  • Sharp Plastic may need special disposal.

Sharps Disposal Methods

The FDA recommends putting all sharps in a special sharps disposal container. After that’s done, there are three main disposal methods.

  • Mailback. This sharps disposal method literally sends the biohazardous waste through the mail. Since the sharps are properly packaged and labeled first, it’s safe and legal.
  • Collection. One sharps disposal choice is packaging medical waste on-site. A disposal company then comes to collect it and take it off for treatment.
  • On Site Treatment. Some facilities elect for on-site sharps disposal. This is the most resource-intensive method, since it requires specialized equipment.

Why Sharps Disposal Matters

Via: Wikipedia

According to the NIH, proper sharps disposal can stem the spread of infectious bloodborne pathogens.

Data suggests that 16% of all occupational injuries in hospitals come from sharps.

Sharps injuries vastly increase the risk to hospital workers of diseases like Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

Proper sharps disposal eliminates or greatly reduces the risk of sticks and infection.

Improper sharps disposal carries hefty fines.