According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), medical waste includes waste materials produced at medical practices and hospitals as well as research facilities and laboratories. Therefore, the list of items that qualify for inclusion in this broad category is quite enormous and can seem overwhelming.
(image credit James Gathany)
This is because medical waste has many different classifications, depending on its nature. From regular solid waste to biohazardous waste and pharmaceutical waste, there are multiple types that can be grouped in a number of different ways.
However, by focusing specifically on laboratory products and their relation to medical waste, the associated items are much more manageable. In fact, the Medical Waste Tracking Act of 1988 helps to define the role of laboratory products in this context by stating that medical waste represents “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.”
In terms of this explanation, laboratory products that can be viewed as medical waste include:
- Culture dishes and related glassware
- Used gloves
- Used instruments
- Discarded needles
If these materials above would be used in a laboratory setting and are capable of causing disease in an otherwise healthy human, these laboratory products should be considered medical waste.
Mostly generated in healthcare labs, microbiological waste consists of discarded cultures, culture dishes and devices used to handle and mix cultures, specimens and vaccines. But it should be noted that these laboratory items are only seen as hazardous if they contain organisms that can pose a threat to the health of human beings.
States that have created special provisions for pathological waste typically provide specific guidelines for microbiological waste as well. Pathological waste is characterized by animal carcasses, tissues, body parts and fluids removed by trauma, surgery, autopsy or other kinds of medical procedures. In short, microbiological waste is often seen in a similar light as pathological waste.
It is essential to point out that microbiological waste is also classified as “sharps” must be disposed of by following the applicable state and federal rules applied to this type of medical waste. Even if a sharp is technically microbiological waste, it should still be discarded in line with the separate rules designated for sharps waste. Special puncture-resistant and clearly labeled containers are usually required by most states to hold discarded sharps.
Laboratory products that can be segregated as sharps may include:
- Hypodermic needles
- Pasteur pipettes
- Capillary tubes
- Broken glass from a laboratory such as slides, slide covers, razor blades and scalpel blades
One Final Note
Since medical waste categories can overlap and may result in confusion, it’s important to be aware of federal regulations and the specific laws within your state. You should also know exactly how every type of medical waste you generate must be discarded. By following the detailed rules provided by federal and state law, you ensure the health and safety of coworkers, patients, waste handlers and the general population.