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Is a medical waste certificate of destruction required every time your facility or business disposes of medical waste? It depends.
If you generate medical waste – such as hazardous or infectious waste that requires special treatment before disposal, be aware of your legal obligations. It’s always a good idea to develop and implement best practices for medical waste disposal in order to avoid issues of non-compliance. That means paying attention to documentation that proves you’re following the rules. Case in point - the certificate of destruction.
Written documentation or evidence that medical waste has been legally and correctly disposed of could be necessary in an audit situation. Therefore, it's important to know what's required of you and then follow those rules to the letter. Not doing so could result in fines—or worse.
Your first step is to identify which types of medical waste require special handling or disposal processes, such as hazardous waste.
01 / Hazardous Waste versus Non-hazardous Waste
Whether or not you legally need a certificate of destruction depends on what type of waste you're disposing of. If, for example, you're disposing of hazardous waste, verify regulations regarding disposal. Rules for hazardous waste management and disposal are under the purview of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Turn to guidelines for hazardous waste in the Federal Code of Regulations, Title 40 Parts 260 through 273.
In addition to federal guidelines, each state also has their own regulations regarding medical waste disposal, so make sure that you carefully review those rules to ensure compliance. The ‘Cradle-to-Grave’ approach is used by both federal and state agencies when it comes to waste generators, regardless of type of waste. Essentially, this approach makes it the responsibility of the waste generator to ensure that waste is managed and disposed of properly and in compliance with all state and federal laws. It is your responsibility, and any issues of non-compliance (and resulting fines) will fall on your shoulders.
02 / Who Requires Medical Waste Disposal Documents?
Medical waste disposal documents prove that you have followed the rules. For this reason, it is always recommended that you obtain documents or certificates that verify that your medical waste has been properly disposed of. The hazardous waste management or disposal facility engaging in any destruction processes should send all proper documentation to you within forty-five days.
It is standard practice for the waste management or disposal facility to send such documents directly to the generator (medical practice, hospital, business, industrial facility) of the hazardous waste—even if that business is using the waste management company to help facilitate proper waste transport and disposal.
For non-hazardous waste, this documentation is not legally required. However, that being said, if an auditor ever requests a documents to verify shipment and compliant destruction or disposal of any waste for any given reason, it's always better to be safe than sorry in those situations.
To that end, make sure any waste management company that you deal with is knowledgeable and reputable enough to properly keep these records. That way, if you ever need them in the future, they'll be readily available to you.
03 / Destruction of Medical Waste - State versus Federal Laws
Every state also makes their rules for medical waste disposal, and they can be stricter than those of the federal government. While every state must follow the regulations of the federal government, it’s also important to keep in mind that you also need to follow those of your state. You cannot pick and choose. You must follow both to maintain compliance.
State regulations for medical waste management, including hazardous and/or infectious waste management and disposal are often found within the state’s Department of Natural Resources. They primarily adopt the regulations of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
However, the state you're operating in (and any state where you waste will be transported through) matters as well. Any given state is merely required to meet the minimum federal standards. As mentioned, that means that any state is free to enforce stricter laws.
South Carolina, for example, has more stringent requirements than many other states. It requires written proof of destruction with every shipment - regardless of the waste type. Don't be surprised if a state even has requirements as strict as needing the name of the individual actually operating the medical waste autoclave!
To ensure your business is in full compliance during every step of the medical waste management process, it’s important to stay up-to-date on both the state and federal guidelines. This can be time-consuming and challenging, as laws are consistently changing. However, if you're at all unsure about federal or state regulations, don’t guess. Get in touch with an experienced and reputable medical waste or hazardous waste management company such as MCF Environmental Services.
Compliance is key to avoiding not only safety issues but poor medical waste management practices that can result in massive fines by both federal and state governmental agencies.
04 / Proving Medical Waste has been Disposed of Properly
One of the surest ways to ensure that your medical waste has been disposed of properly (and in proving it), is through tracking. While the federal government (EPA) no longer has the authority to track medical waste, state environmental programs do.
Most require a Bill of Lading for transport of non-hazardous or non-regulated waste and a Hazardous Waste Manifest for transport of hazardous/infectious waste. These are the best solutions to track your medical waste. Know the difference of details required on a bill of lading versus a hazardous waste manifest.
In this way, the medical waste generator is assured that waste has been managed properly and compliantly, and will have the documents to prove it.
05 / Turn to the professionals for paperwork compliance
The best approach to proper medical waste disposal protocol is to be proactive. Ensure you're doing everything right before you're confronted with the possibility of an audit. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to seek out the advice and/or services of an experienced and professional waste management company that knows not only federal law but state regulations when it comes to medical waste tracking and disposal processes.
When looking for help, keep the following points in mind:
Depending on your location and the type of waste, a certificate of destruction might not be necessary. That being said, you want to work with a company that can easily and readily supply the necessary paperwork should you need it at any point in the future.
Be wary of any company that doesn't keep proper documentation on file. This could mean big problems for you during an audit.
Work with a company that's knowledgeable about the full range of paperwork. A bill of lading, for example, is going to show material was hauled away. It won't show what specific facility destroyed what specific shipment on what specific day.
Getting dinged on or even failing a waste audit has real financial consequences in addition to damage to reputation. A facility that engages in non-compliant medical waste management processes may be liable for both federal and state fines and penalties as well as having funds cut or withdrawn. If deliberate, repeated, or egregious non-compliance is determined, a business, healthcare provider, or facility may lose licensing or even risk a facility shut-down.
For more information about medical waste documents that you may require for your medical waste management and disposal processes, contact one of our knowledgeable representatives for information or guidance. MCF Environmental Services is a waste management Atlanta-based business with over thirty years of industry experience.