Regulated Medical Waste: Know the Facts

March 18, 2016  World Health Organization & Healthcare Environmental Resource Center

Regulated Medical Waste

Regulated Medical Waste (RMW) generated by health care activities includes a broad range of materials, from used needles and syringes to soiled dressings, body parts, diagnostic samples, blood, chemicals, medical devices and radioactive materials.

Poor management of health care waste potentially exposes health care workers, waste handlers, patients and the community at large to infection, toxic effects and injuries, and risks polluting the environment. Understanding the facts, types of medical waste and proper ways in which it should be handled are essential to every medical practice.

First, a few key facts from the World Health Organization:

  • Of the total amount of waste generated by health-care activities, about 85% is general, non-hazardous waste.
  • The remaining 15% is considered hazardous material that may be infectious, toxic or radioactive.
  • Health-care waste contains potentially harmful microorganisms, which can infect hospital patients, health workers and the general public.

Most practices generate regulated medical waste, including such materials as:

Cultures and Stocks: Cultures and stocks of infectious agents and associated biologicals, including: cultures from medical and pathological laboratories; cultures and stocks of infectious agents from research and industrial laboratories; wastes from the production of biologicals; discarded live and attenuated vaccines; and culture dishes and devices used to transfer, inoculate, and mix cultures.

Pathological Wastes: Human pathological wastes, including tissues, organs, and body parts and body fluids that are removed during surgery or autopsy, or other medical procedures, and specimens of body fluids and their containers.

Human Blood and Blood Products: Liquid waste human blood; blood; items saturated and/or dripping with human blood; or items that were saturated and/or dripping with human blood that are now caked with dried human blood; including serum, plasma, and other blood components, and their containers, which were used or intended for use in either patient care, testing and laboratory analysis or the development of pharmaceuticals. Intravenous bags (only if they have come into contact with blood or other regulated body fluid), soft plastic pipettes and plastic blood vials are also included in this category.

Sharps: Sharps that were used in human patient care or treatment or in medical research including sharp, or potentially sharp if broken, items such as hypodermic needles, all syringes to which a needle can be attached (with or without the attached needle) and their  components. Also included are other types of broken or unbroken glassware that were in contact with infectious agents, such as used slides and cover slips.

Isolation Wastes: Biological waste and discarded materials contaminated with blood, excretion, exudates, or secretions from humans who are isolated to protect others from certain highly communicable diseases.

Unused Sharps: The following unused, discarded sharps, that were intended to be used: hypodermic needles, suture needles, syringes, and scalpel blades.

Some RMW is stored on-site, but any RMW scheduled to be transported off-site, must follow strict state protocols. Practices segregating RMW intended for transport off-site must first separate waste in separate containers (e.g. sharps, fluids, other RMW) and store it in a manner and location that maintains the integrity of the packaging, provides protection from the elements, is refrigerated if appropriate, stored in secure location accessed only by authorized personnel. Once ready for transport, use your state’s required tracking forms, retain copies for your practice’s records, and ensure receipt of destination via a licensed medical waste transporter. For additional details on preparing your staff to manage regulated medical waste, click here.  You can also learn more about your specific state’s medical waste programs and regulations here .

For assistance in planning your medical waste storage and disposal program, contact a Continuum Buying Alliance team member to learn how we can assist your practice.